Development is a freely chosen vocation whose meaning transcends the human

From Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (2009):

In Populorum Progressio, Paul VI taught that progress, in its origin and essence, is first and foremost a vocation: “in the design of God, every man is called upon to develop and fulfil himself, for every life is a vocation.”34 This is what gives legitimacy to the Church’s involvement in the whole question of development. If development were concerned with merely technical aspects of human life, and not with the meaning of man’s pilgrimage through history in company with his fellow human beings, nor with identifying the goal of that journey, then the Church would not be entitled to speak on it. Paul VI, like Leo XIII before him in Rerum Novarum,35 knew that he was carrying out a duty proper to his office by shedding the light of the Gospel on the social questions of his time.36

To regard development as a vocation is to recognize, on the one hand, that it derives from a transcendent call, and on the other hand that it is incapable, on its own, of supplying its ultimate meaning. Not without reason the word “vocation” is also found in another passage of the Encyclical, where we read: “There is no true humanism but that which is open to the Absolute, and is conscious of a vocation which gives human life its true meaning.”37 This vision of development is at the heart of Populorum Progressio, and it lies behind all Paul VI’s reflections on freedom, on truth and on charity in development. It is also the principal reason why that Encyclical is still timely in our day.

A vocation is a call that requires a free and responsible answer. Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility. The “types of messianism which give promises but create illusions”38 always build their case on a denial of the transcendent dimension of development, in the conviction that it lies entirely at their disposal. This false security becomes a weakness, because it involves reducing man to subservience, to a mere means for development, while the humility of those who accept a vocation is transformed into true autonomy, because it sets them free. Paul VI was in no doubt that obstacles and forms of conditioning hold up development, but he was also certain that “each one remains, whatever be these influences affecting him, the principal agent of his own success or failure.”39 This freedom concerns the type of development we are considering, but it also affects situations of underdevelopment which are not due to chance or historical necessity, but are attributable to human responsibility. This is why “the peoples in hunger are making a dramatic appeal to the peoples blessed with abundance”.40 This too is a vocation, a call addressed by free subjects to other free subjects in favour of an assumption of shared responsibility. Paul VI had a keen sense of the importance of economic structures and institutions, but he had an equally clear sense of their nature as instruments of human freedom. Only when it is free can development be integrally human; only in a climate of responsible freedom can it grow in a satisfactory manner.

34 No. 15: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis [AAS] 59 (1967), 265.
35 Cf. ibid., 2: loc. cit., 258; Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum (15 May 1891): Leonis XIII P.M. Acta, XI, Romæ 1892, 97-144; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 8: AAS 80 (1988), 519-520; Id., Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 5: AAS 83 (1991), 799.
36 Cf. Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 2, 13: loc. cit., 258, 263-264.
37 Ibid., 42: loc. cit., 278.
38 Ibid., 11: loc. cit., 262; cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 25: loc. cit., 822-824.
39 Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 15: loc. cit., 265.
40 Ibid., 3: loc. cit., 258.

Caritas in Veritate 16-17

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