The pope’s newest encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” provides us with a roadmap for how we might reimagine our society in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, more than ever, we are called to act for the common good. As you discern your vocation, consider how God is calling you to adopt an attitude of fraternity and put love into action. Is God calling you, or someone you know, to become a Franciscan friar? Contact Holy Name Province’s Franciscan Vocation Ministry.
On Sunday, Oct. 25, the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, David McBriar, OFM, preached the following homily to the friar community at the St. Francis chapel in New York City. A reflection on Exodus 22:20-26, 1 Thess 1: 5c-10, and John 14:23, David’s homily was part of the “‘Fratelli Tutti’ Preaching Project” produced by the Province’s Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.
The love of God and the love of one’s neighbor is the theme that runs through today’s Word of God. It is also the theme running through Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti.” Echoing Jesus’ words, Pope Francis tells us that the love of God and the love of neighbor is one and the same. What is the love of which Jesus speaks? Of which Pope Francis speaks? First, I will share with you an example of love in action, followed by the the Word of God, and finally, a reflection on “Fratelli tutti,” your life, and mine.
Love in Action
Richard Selzer was a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He was also a splendid author. From his books emerge the lessons of one who is deeply human, who knows what love means. In his book “Mortal Lessons,” he tells this story:
“I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face disfigured; her mouth is twisted in palsy, clownish. To remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed. The young woman speaks: ‘Will my mouth always be like this?’ she asks. ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘it will. It’s because the nerve was cut.’ She nods, and is silent. Nevertheless, the young man smiles. ‘I like it,’ he says, ‘it is kind of cute.’ I understand, and I lower my gaze. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close that I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I hold my breath and let the wonder in.”
Here is the endless story of two-in-one. Not the love of Romeo and Juliet, but the sensitivity that makes for joy in the very heart of sorrow. To make one’s life accommodate another, to show one another that – despite what life may offer – that your kiss, your touch, your embrace, your care can still work, will always work.
The deepest meaning of love is self-giving, despite the feelings and the circumstances. That is how you measure your love for another person. It is at the heart of marriage, it is at the heart of a family, it is at the heart of every relationship with someone you love or someone you struggle to love. It is at the heart of religious life. It is at the heart of what will help heal our human family. In these relationships, I am at one with and, at the same time, loving God.
It’s not easy. Dorothy Day, quoting Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of her favorite authors, says, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” What is “love in action” in our time?
An Attitude of Fraternity
Pope Francis spends the greater part of “Fratelli Tutti” describing what is disfiguring the human family. Ideologies of economic self-interest dominate the common good. Public conversation and communication are being poisoned. There continues to be many forms of discrimination. There is a widespread disrespect for vulnerable human beings.
Pope Francis calls for fraternity and social friendship. He deplores selfishness and hostility in the response to the crises of our time. The first words of the encyclical are part of a quotation from St. Francis of Assisi, in which he commends a fraternity that crosses all boundaries of distance and culture as central to his followers. Pope Francis calls for social friendship — social respect for persons, and for the common good over individual interests in social, economic and institutional relationships. These flow from an attitude of fraternity. Pope Francis also reflects on the COVID-19 crisis, and on the dangers and opportunities created by the need to respond to it.
Pope Francis cites the parable of the Good Samaritan with its emphasis on practical friendship for the wounded stranger. He describes this bridge of fraternity in terms of the central principles of Catholic Social Teaching: respect for human beings for their intrinsic value and not for their use, solidarity based on their social nature, and the primacy of the common good. “Fratelli Tutti” also calls for reform of political life based on respect for persons, respect for law and for human rights, and attention to the common good, rather than to individual and sectional interests.
Fratelli Tutti and the U.S. Election
As we prepare to vote in our national election on Nov. 3rd, the questions raised by Pope Francis are worthy of reflection, and should serve as the basis for our decision in the ballot box.
All of these things call for a culture marked by the search for truth and openness to others. They must also be built on a commitment to peace, the rejection of war and capital punishment, and the encouragement of processes of forgiveness and reconciliation within societies.
The encyclical closes with a passionate assertion of the dignity of each human being and the respect owed to and expected from each other and society, as well as an equally passionate denunciation of the greed, violence and inequality that threaten the future of the world.
The way in which we set about rebuilding society in the face of the coronavirus pandemic will be crucial. Its outcome will depend on whether we choose individual greed or commitment to the common good.
The encyclical strongly endorses the human rights of people made vulnerable by society — of women and children, of racial minorities, of refugees, of the elderly, and others. It views the public conversation about rights as one of engagement and persuasion in seeking the common good, not as a closed and adversarial struggle between allies and enemies.
“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” Despite the disfigurement of our time and the dangers we face, there is still a founded hope that the grace of God will bring about a future of goodwill and fraternity, where peace and love prevail.
— David, who professed his solemn vows as a Franciscan friar in 1968, serves as parochial vicar at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in New York City.
- “How Do I Become a Franciscan Friar?” – Franciscan Vocation Ministry of Holy Name Province
- “Reflection on Fraternity and Brotherhood for St. Francis Feast” – Oct. 2, 2020, HNP Today
- “Reactions to Fratelli Tutti and Other OFM News” – Oct. 16, 2020, HNP Today