The cross : As a moral theologian focused on social issues, how do you define love?
Dominique Coatanéa: I quite like to define love as this force which pushes us to go out of ourselves to reach out to others, to ally with others. To make others, however different they may be from ourselves, partners, allies. Moral theology is interested in this movement which attests to the personal and collective response to this recognized and welcomed gift which transforms each of our lives, which invites solidarity, sharing, and going out of oneself towards others.
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Christian faith states that God is love. What does that mean ?
D. C. : To say that God is love is to recognize that my life was given to me by another. It was given to me with a law of existence: a law of ecstasy which is movement of leaving oneself to go towards the other. This law of ecstasy, which each carries within him, is the law of a life which is fulfilled with and for others. We are invited by God to deploy our life according to this dynamic which is his, which pushes us to commit our life to him in order to love as he loves us.
Of course, we are not always consistent with this dynamic. This is why we must permanently re-root ourselves in this divine power, drink ourselves at the source. Welcoming this gift supposes working on oneself to become this man, this woman capable of going out of oneself to reach out to others, to ally with them, especially with the little ones, those who are violated in their rights, in their dignity. .
They say love can do anything. What does this open up as possible for social life?
D. C. : To get up when you’ve fallen. To believe that all is not lost. That there is hope. At the Sèvres Center, Étienne Grieu has developed a research team on the voices of the poorest. I am quite amazed to hear these fragile, vulnerable men and women with often complicated lives, able to say that to live is to love and forgive: “I forgive you, I want you to live. “ There is something powerful about this. Forgive yourself first, forgive yourself for not having lived up to what you would have liked to live or do.
When we say that love can do anything, it means believing that it can seek us out to a place where we no longer even dared to go and recover ourselves, we were so disgusted with ourselves for having been incapable of to act, or to have done an unacceptable act. It seems to me that love is that force that often passes through others. Others who come looking for us where we ourselves can no longer be. I see this as an issue for Christian communities.
→ EDITORIAL. The social force of the Eucharist
Those who welcome God as a source of life can only desire to share it with others, in a covenant. It is therefore for Christian communities to translate this strength of the gift received into a covenant for life. This is how Christian communities can bear witness and become more of these places of recovery, where men and women damaged by existence can find fresh herbs near, something to rest, something to catch their breath, with others.
In Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis calls for universal brotherhood. But isn’t universal love totally utopian?
D. C. : We can indeed say that it is very difficult to love someone who is not close to us. But we can also say: this is what happens when we do not like. This is what Pope Francis does in his texts: this is what happens in a society of exclusion; this is what happens when you consider the other to be useless – I take it and I throw it away; this is what happens in a society of consumption and predation …
Basically, Pope Francis shows us what non-love leads us to experience and, in doing so, he reactivates moral energies, fraternal energies from their opposite so that these situations shock us and reorient us. Jesus does the same by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are all watched by the indifference of the priest and the Levite.
It’s so hard to see each other and let yourself be touched. Pope Francis tells us: if you allow the capacity of perception that is in you to reactivate, you will be touched and you will not act the same again. At the heart of each man, this dynamic which consists in revolting against injustice is the first manifestation of divine life in us: it enables us to leave our facilities, our mutual self.
This is how the good Samaritan is able to stop, to put another program on his agenda, to take the wounded man upon himself, to experience a clinch, to lead him to the inn, to do trust others to take over. This last element seems important to me: we need mutual trust. It is a credit given to the common life which re-engages us, towards each other, and this creates positive social dynamics, it strengthens the desire for a bond.
How can this manifest itself in today’s social world?
D. C. : I am thinking of the Territoires zero long-term unemployed experiment on which I had the opportunity to work. There is, at the outset, a basic conviction: no one is too damaged, too weak, too poor to have nothing to give. No one can be excluded from this possibility of allying with others to give their intelligence, their work force, to build something.
But to allow men and women to find their place in society, political, economic and social energies must be brought together. Thanks to this experience, men and women get back to their feet, even if there are relapses, due to the complexity of personal situations, on the social or psychological level. I see in this deployment of collective energy a sign of the fruitfulness of the dynamic of leaving oneself towards others. This is what the Pope puts under the word social friendship.
In Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis writes: “In politics, it is also possible to love tenderly. ” What does he mean ?
D. C. : Tenderness is a word of the intimate. The Pope dares to use it to talk about politics. He also defines what this tenderness is: “It is love that comes close and materializes. It is a movement which starts from the heart and arrives at the eyes, at the ears, at the hands. ” It’s that love “Which comes close and materializes”, which is being deployed in the Territories zero long-term unemployed experiment, even if the actors concerned use another language.
Men and women, driven by strong convictions, let themselves be carried away by this call to “get close” to those who need institutional arrangements to support their lives. They concretize it through laws, decrees, experiments. Behind political systems, the ability to step out of oneself to reach out to others is at play. Politics can be a place of manifestation of love.
→ READ. Hymn to love, the record of The cross
“To attest to the fruitfulness of our Christian life”
When asked to introduce himself, Dominique Coatanéa gladly retraces his itinerary which led him from his work at the SNCF to the post of professor of moral theology at the Sèvres Center, after having passed through the Catho de Lyon and that of Angers where she was dean of the theological faculty for three years.
This mother of five recounts the encounters that have marked her journey, from the animation of awakening to the faith at the request of her parish priest, through pastoral training at the Higher Institute of Religious Sciences (IER) of la Catho de Paris, before pursuing a bachelor’s degree in theology and then a thesis with research on the common good with Gaston Fessard, a Jesuit father.
“To attest to the fruitfulness of our Christian life, in the contemporary context, supposes to nourish our understanding of the stakes”, she explains. This is what led her to moral theology to explore this question: “How can we reconcile what may seem intimate – the life of faith – and what feeds commitments in economic, political and social life? “