Alas, my root canal, book-writing and blogging have only given me a short time to read the new papal encyclical. A work by Benedict requires more thoughtful study, and I'll get to it as soon as I can. But some brief, early responses. First, it's a beautifully written document: humane, outward, subtle and exactly, in my view, what the Church needs right now. It's a reminder of our basis as Church - in the love that Jesus brought into the world and commanded us to live. Benedict's Augustinian realism that heaven on earth is impossible, that ideologies that pretend to solve all human suffering are lies, that we should not attempt "what God's governance of the world apparently cannot: fully resolve every problem" - all these are profound truths at the center of our faith.

I'm struck, however, by the near-complete absence in the document of the love of "amicitia," of friendship. It is far more central to the Gospel message than eros, and under-estimated in our current culture, to our great detriment. I also, obviously, share Benedict's wonder at conjugal love. I see no conflict between the love of two homosexual men or women for each other and the mystery of heterosexual love. One day, it would be wonderful to see this doctrine of love extend to all God's creatures. But these are brief, provisional comments. Amy Wellborn has a very insightful short essay on the Enclyclical. So does Rocco Palmo. I'd be grateful if readers sent me any other reflections on it that I could possibly post on the blog. And yes, this does surprise me somewhat. It is not as extreme or as repressive as Benedict's well-earned reputation. It is a sign, one hopes, of a papcy that can change and grow and concentrate on the central truths, not peripheral obsessions. For that, a great sigh of relief. And, even, yes, hope ...

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