The 2024 edition of the annual retreat for the staff of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) and the agencies of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), kicked off on Tuesday 9 January, with the theme: “Deus Caritas Est” and was moderated by the revered ecclesiastic, Rt. Rev. Msgr. John Aniagwu. Following the theme, which was based on Benedict XVI’s first encyclical as a Pope, the retreat moderator used the first session to expose the document to the participants, as a theoretical and theological foundation to the practical demands and applications that will follow thereafter in the other session and throughout the retreat.
Msgr. Aniagwu noted that the Encyclical under review was the first of only three encyclicals produced by the outstanding, scholarly and cerebral Pope who was well versed in the philosophy, theology and social doctrines. Published on Christmas day of 2005, the document has an introduction and then two parts, which are theoretical and practical respectively. Msgr. Aniagwu noted the opening striking words of the document taken directly from 1John 4:16: ‘God is love’. By this, the Holy Father implied that another name for God is love, because wherever there is love, there is God and vice versa. But the full dimension of love based on Deut. 6:5 (love God with all your heart) and Lev. 19:18 (love your neighbour as yourself) was fused together when he taught his disciples to love God above all else and neighbour as themself. Msgr. Aniagwu quoted the striking conclusion of the introduction which he considered key to the discourse of “Deus Caritas Est.”
“I wish in this first Encyclical to speak of the love God has lavished upon us and which we must share with others.” “In the theoretical part of the Encyclical which is titled “Unity of love in creation and salvation history,” Pope Benedict XVI observed that in as much as the document highlighted multiple dimensions of the understanding, and the bastardizing of the word ‘love’ in the present world, love as ‘Eros and Agape’, must be seen as being complimentary and not opposed, because some eros and some agape must go together in our Christian love. “Man cannot always give love, he must have the capacity to also receive love. God’s passionate love for humanity is a forgiving love. His love is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice.
His love supercedes his justice. Msgr. Aniagwu noted that the practical side of the document elevates the practice of love as a Christian responsibility both for the individual Christian and the Church as an institution. Borrowing from Act 6:1-15, the responsibility to service of charity made it imperative that the activity be properly organised, rather than being carried out randomly. Thus, the Church has many structures at the service of charity, such as, Caritas, JDPC, SSVP and many others both at local and International levels in the Church. While the Church must collaborate with secular charity organisations, it must be distinguished by its attitude of service, such that those who engage in the service of charity in the church, must be humble, trained, respectful and prayerful.
“Those who carry out the work of charity for the church, must do so with genuine concern for the needy whom they serve. They need formation of the heart. They must give themselves, and not just the goods.” The concluding part of the document proposed some saints who were outstanding in the lives of charitable service, like St. Martin of Tour, St. Vincent de Paul, St. John of God, St. Louis de Montfort, St. John Bosco, St. Teresa of Calcutta and the Blessed Virgin Mary, as revealed in the Visitation scene and the Wedding at Cana.