The Church: Our Safeguard Against Self-Destruction

For the past four weeks I’ve been facilitating a formation course for Catholic school teachers in Springfield on Catholic Social Doctrine. This past week we explored chapter four of Pope Benedict XVI’s social encyclical, Cartias in Veritate (Charity in Truth).

One quote from our reading stuck out at me in particular:

The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction. [my emphasis]

image by Zahorí/FlickrCCThe pope is speaking plainly here about the impact of unjust consumption and hoarding of resources by industrial nations without regard to the impact on underdeveloped nations or future generations. However, I think we can also read a spiritual truth into this statement; namely, that without the Church, the Body of Christ, we cannot avoid the self-destruction of our souls. It is the Church’s duty to safeguard the faithful and preach the Gospel unto their salvation. Without that preaching, preserved through the teaching of the Apostles and their successors, we are doomed to annihilation.

Benedict’s statement also points to a greater reality: that, while mankind is perfectly capable of destroying itself, we cannot save ourselves. It is only in community that we will avoid self-destruction. And not just any community will do — it must be a community rightly ordered, with Christ at the head. Without the Church we would not have the Sacred Scriptures, the sacraments, the teachings of Christ; in other words, we would not have the means of grace necessary to avoid our destruction.

Pope Benedict alludes to these realities again in the closing words of this chapter:

Truth, and the love which it reveals, cannot be produced: they can only be received as a gift. Their ultimate source is not, and cannot be, mankind, but only God, who is himself Truth and Love. This principle is extremely important for society and for development, since neither can be a purely human product; the vocation to development on the part of individuals and peoples is not based simply on human choice, but is an intrinsic part of a plan that is prior to us and constitutes for all of us a duty to be freely accepted. That which is prior to us and constitutes us ” subsistent Love and Truth ” shows us what goodness is, and in what our true happiness consists. It shows us the road to true development.