My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The Third Encyclical of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, entitled, “Fratelli Tutti” is a very long and complicated commentary on the world today and the place of Christians in the world. My intention with this week’s article is to give you a kind of menu of what the Holy Father says in his Encyclical, which should be read in its entirety and can be found on the Vatican website at: http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html.
The antipasto of the menu will be my own comments on what Pope Francis says in speaking to us.
I found the piece very interesting to read and an exposition of the Holy Father’s world view as he sees it through our Christian faith, and what we can do to make the world a better place.
A Dark Cloud Over a Closed World
In his first chapter, Pope Francis speaks of the dark clouds that are looming over the world today. There are many that need not be enumerated; however, we know the difficult situation we find in the world today. The paths of hope that will lead us out of these dark clouds consist of Love, Justice, and Solidarity. These three virtues are sprinkled throughout the Encyclical, which gives us some insight into the social teaching of the Church applied to concrete situations.
Our globalized world makes us neighbors but does not necessarily make us brothers and sisters, as the Holy Father says. We see the despair, polarization, and the inequality that exists among people. This is what we as Christians need to address, as citizens not only of our own country but also of the world. The road that we must travel is one of closeness and, as the Holy Father calls it, “The culture of encounter.”
A Stranger on the Road
The Scriptural basis of our social teaching reminds us of what we hear in the Old Testament in the story of Cain and Abel when the voice of God, speaking to Cain, who has killed his brother, asks, “Where is your brother?” after Cain hid Abel’s body after committing fratricide. In the New Testament, the same question is posed to Jesus, and he answered by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. My neighbor is the one who is in need of my love.
There are those who assail others, those who pass them by, and others who wound and abandon themselves. All of these people in this complicated world in which we live are present, but if we are truly sisters and brothers all, as the words of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti (which includes male and female humanity), what are we to do? We are certainly even more than neighbors. Neighbors are interpreted to be those who live next to us, but brothers and sisters are recognized by the universal sonship that comes from God. The story of the Good Samaritan continually repeats itself in our world today. Although many will not pass by those in need, our goal is to replicate the lesson of the parable over and over again.
Envisaging and Engendering an Open World
The Holy Father then tried to envision an open world because we are all sisters and brothers, as Jesus tells us in Matthew’s Gospel 23-8. “You are all brothers and sisters.” The universal call to fraternity requires that we be open to others being called human beings, that our love calls for greater ability to accept others, with a love that is capable of transcending borders on the basis of social friendship. Promoting the good means promoting values that advance integral human development. This term
has been used by the Holy Father many times. Integral human development means that every person is valuable and has the right to live with dignity, and all of our social needs should support this basic fact.
A Heart Open to the Whole World
How is it possible that this happens? Well, we must have our heart open to the whole world with actions that favor universal fraternity. We do this by welcoming, protecting, and integrating migrants and all those on the margins, by becoming more aware that we are all saved together, and no one is saved alone, by forging a global, judicial, political and economic bond that favors the development of all people in solidarity. An open-heart means that it must be gracious, not simply by doing good things, but rather by looking at the worth of the individual to whom we extend our graciousness. This means using the gift of encounter to forge solidarity, which enables us to be truly gracious to one another.
A Better Kind of Politics
Our Holy Father poses a better kind of politics, one that truly promotes the common good, that does not seek merely to gain votes, that serves as a channel of personal growth, that promotes an economy, that favors productive diversity and business creativity, one that is farsighted and capable of new and essential inter-disciplinarian dialogue. These characteristics are not so common in politics today. Pope Francis calls for a renewal of the political order whose soul is social charity.
Social charity is a term that Blessed Pope Paul VI created when he spoke about the “Civilization of Love.” It is a term that means transforming the world culture so that the common good is sought for the good of all in its social dimensions. True political activity is important in that every person recognizes their responsibility for the life of others. This is the vocation of dedicated politicians.
Dialogue and Friendship in Society
Dialogue and friendship in society are essential if solidarity will be achieved. Dialogue means approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, getting to know and understanding one another and finding common ground.
According to the Culture of Encounter, each of us can learn something from others. And no one is useless, and no one is expendable. We should aim for a society that engages in dialogue, respects the dignity of others in all circumstances, integrates differences though guaranteeing a genuine and lasting peace, and recognizes people’s rights to themselves and the rights of others to be themselves and maintain an atmosphere of friendship.
Attitudes or actions that do not foster dialogue are an aggression and lead to the humiliation and discrediting of others. Authentic social dialogue involves the ability to respect the point of view of others.
Paths of Renewed Encounter
The path towards peace follows the processes of renewed encounters, which are very necessary. They consist of true reconciliation, in common projects that do not deny each person’s individuality, in recognizing, protecting and restoring the dignity of all persons, in the option for the poor, the disposed, and the discarded, and in understanding and appreciating the
meaning of forgiveness.
Jesus never promoted violence or intolerance. The Gospels tell us to forgive “seventy times seven times.” (Mt. 18:22) If the world cannot find true forgiveness and true reconciliation, then a better culture will not be achieved. True forgiveness and reconciliation are achieved in some conflicts but are resolved through dialogue. It is necessary to abstain from enmities and mutual hatred; facilitate an honest discussion of differences, founded on a desire for justice. Forgiving does not mean forgetting or impunity, which needs to be resolved through further dialogue, and never through the circle of vengeance. The paths that leave from the dark clouds are not necessarily easily achievable.
Religions at the Service of the Fraternity in Our World
Religions must be at the service of fraternity in our world. This is contrary to some popular opinions that religions are the source of all conflict in the world. Religion must foster the awareness that we are children of God and that we can live in peace with one another. Different religions contribute to building fraternity in their own way.
Seeking God helps us to recognize one another as traveling companions and truly as sisters and brothers. The denial of religious liberty and freedom of conscience truly leaves humanity impoverished. The Church should be a home with open doors, because she is a mother. She builds bridges. She breaks down walls. She sows the seeds of reconciliation.
The journey of peace is possible among religions as the point of departure, but it must be God’s way of seeing things, for God sees with His heart. Violence has no basis in our fundamental religious convictions. And sincere and humble worship of God bears fruit in respect of life, dignity and freedom of others. Religious leaders are called to be true “people of dialogue” and to cooperate in building peace as authentic mediators. Common prayer and action are the fruit of genuine religion.
Obviously, our Holy Father has chosen to put out into the deep a realm of social responsibility in a divided and ever-complicated world. His words come with deep appreciation of the predicaments of our world today, especially in the era of the Coronavirus, which unfortunately has accented the divisions among nations, highlighting that a lack of cooperation can actually worsen the situation of individuals in the world today.
We echo and pray together with the Ecumenical Christian Prayer that Pope Francis offers at the end of “Fratelli Tutti.”
O God, Trinity of love, from the profound communion of your divine life, pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love.
Grant us the love reflected in actions of Jesus, in his family of Nazareth, and in the early Christian community.
Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel, discovering Christ in each human being, recognizing him crucified in all suffering of the abandoned and forgotten of our world, and risen in each brother or sister who makes a new start.
Come, Holy Spirit, show us our beauty, reflected in all the peoples of the earth, so that we may discover anew that all are important and all are necessary, different faces of the one humanity that God so loves.