Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I begin Chapter 4 of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, “Charity in Truth”:
CHAPTER FOUR - THE DEVELOPMENT OF PEOPLE, RIGHTS AND DUTIES, THE ENVIRONMENT
- “The reality of human solidarity, which is a benefit for us, also imposes a duty”. Many people today would claim that they owe nothing to anyone, except to themselves. They are concerned only with their rights, and they often have great difficulty in taking responsibility for their own and other people’s integral development. Hence it is important to call for a renewed reflection on how rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere licence. Nowadays we are witnessing a grave inconsistency. On the one hand, appeals are made to alleged rights, arbitrary and non-essential in nature, accompanied by the demand that they be recognized and promoted by public structures, while, on the other hand, elementary and basic rights remain unacknowledged and are violated in much of the world. A link has often been noted between claims to a “right to excess”, and even to transgression and vice, within affluent societies, and the lack of food, drinkable water, basic instruction and elementary health care in areas of the underdeveloped world and on the outskirts of large metropolitan centres. The link consists in this: individual rights, when detached from a framework of duties which grants them their full meaning, can run wild, leading to an escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate. An overemphasis on rights leads to a disregard for duties. Duties set a limit on rights because they point to the anthropological and ethical framework of which rights are a part, in this way ensuring that they do not become licence. Duties thereby reinforce rights and call for their defence and promotion as a task to be undertaken in the service of the common good. Otherwise, if the only basis of human rights is to be found in the deliberations of an assembly of citizens, those rights can be changed at any time, and so the duty to respect and pursue them fades from the common consciousness. Governments and international bodies can then lose sight of the objectivity and “inviolability” of rights. When this happens, the authentic development of peoples is endangered. Such a way of thinking and acting compromises the authority of international bodies, especially in the eyes of those countries most in need of development. Indeed, the latter demand that the international community take up the duty of helping them to be “artisans of their own destiny”, that is, to take up duties of their own. The sharing of reciprocal duties is a more powerful incentive to action than the mere assertion of rights.
It is a wonder to me that more was not said about this encyclical when it was written. We see so much about “rights” and so little about “duties” in today’s culture. Apparently, what Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2009 was not heeded by many! We seem to be seeing, as the Pope expressed it: “individual rights detached from a framework of duties which grants them their full meaning, can run wild, leading to an escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate.” Truly, as the Pope said: " The sharing of reciprocal duties is a more powerful incentive to action than the mere assertion of rights.
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us.
St. Clare whose Feast day we celebrate today, pray for us.
Jeus, we trust in You!