I read Ross Douthout’s op-ed column this morning in the New York Times about the Pope’s new encyclical Caritas in Veritate.
He welcomes the way the encyclical joins many areas of social life. “It links the dignity of labor to the sanctity of marriage. It praises the redistribution of wealth while emphasizing the importance of decentralized governance. It connects the despoiling of the environment to the mass destruction of human embryos.”
It contains a “left-right fusionism with little traction in American politics.”
The article caused a lot of comments in the online edition of The Times, many of them critical of the Church as an outmoded, discredited institution that should keep its mouth shut about what to do today. A song we’ve heard before.
“These questions, and many others like them, are the kind that a healthy political system would allow voters and politicians to explore.” Douthout says,
“But for now, at least, you’re more likely to find them being raised in Benedict XVI’s Vatican than in Barack Obama’s Washington.”
Douthout’s mother is Patricia Snow, who wrote a piece about Anne Rice in a February’s First Things. It seems to me that Anne Rice and artists like her may be “on to something,” to use a phrase from Walker Percy. She uses imagination, guided by the best of biblical scholarship to portray in a series of novels the life of Jesus Christ, from birth to death.
Meditating on the life of Christ has always been a way of prayer for Christians, but I’m afraid it’s less practiced today. One of the reasons may be that we’ve become intimidated by biblical scholarship and all the “findings” of archeologists and historians we see periodically on The History Channel and National Geographic. We distrust our own imagination.
But think about it. Those stories we read in the scriptures are real, about real people, in real places. They are about a world like ours (but without computers and internet). And they only tell us some things. Can we fill in some more? Let’s get the best scholarship and take a look. I like the advice from the medieval Meditations on the Life of Christ. “Go in there and look around, stand with the holy people there, especially Mary the Mother of Jesus, and let your imagination speak God’s wisdom to you. What’s it saying?”
Maybe Anne Rice can “revert” us to meditation.
The pope ends his encyclical with a reminder that social thinking has to be joined to prayer. Another “left-right fusionism” we shouldn’t neglect.