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Everything is a gift

The inner life of the Revealed God is a Trinity, a Communion of Persons. So should be the inner life of every image of God, every human person.

Thus, the four main ideas in the new Encyclical Caritas in Veritate are communion, gift, caritas, and truth. Undoubtedly, this is the most theological, most specifically Catholic, of all social encyclicals since 1891. Its aim is to show the divine context of political economy and the drama of its upward-leaping tongues of fire: its inspiration, its aspiration.

As Abraham Lincoln pointed out, slavery in the United States could not be overcome by a Lockean fear or self-interest alone, but must be married to a larger and more generous grasp of the reality of the other. Progress and human development always depend upon an upward pull.

Benedict XVI sees political economy today caught in a worldwide updraft, whose possibilities we must read accurately. The world’s peoples are becoming ever more pushed together, misunderstanding each other, rubbing against each other. They are called to be one. More and more often, they learn from each other ideas of human rights, protest, free association, free speech, justice, fairness.

The world, in short, groans for inner communion. And some of the most important secrets of human communion spring from the realities of Person and Communion in the free, gratuitous Creator of all. Persons, even in communion with one another, subsist in their uniqueness.

In the distinctively Catholic view of the cosmos, everything begins in the inner personal, communal life of the Godhead. This tallies with our own personal experience that the two most “divine” experiences in our lives, the two that are most God-like, are the kind of love that is perfect communion with another, and the sweet sense of self-control and personal responsibility in moments of great stress. (“Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.”)

From this, the Catholic vision concludes that “Everything we look upon is gift.” Creation itself flows from a superabundant gift. A shopkeeper who moves into a neighborhood to bake fresh bread and sweets in the morning brings a great gift to one’s life. Those who spend their lives bringing such goods to one another bear gifts, especially if their human manner in so doing is kind and considerate. The pope asks us to look at economic life in the light of gift-giving, even when it is conducted according to conventions of exchange and price. It is the human generosity of the thing – the human dimension of commerce – that should not be lost sight of, if the world is to remain (or to become) more human.