New Papal Encyclical: Fratelli Tutti
Invoking again the writings of Saint Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis has published a new encyclical promoting universal fraternity among all human beings. ”[Saint] Francis felt himself a brother to the sun, the sea and the wind, yet he knew that he was even closer to those of his own flesh. Wherever he went, he sowed seeds of peace and walked alongside the poor, the abandoned, the infirm and the outcast, the least of his brothers and sisters.”
In a time when it seems that western civilization is regressing into former patterns of enmity and distrust and the divine order which eternal truth brings to the chaos of human history is obscured by the relativizing clamor of particularity—of persons, of economic and social self-interest—Fratelli Tutti is a reminder to all that beyond every contingent difference is the fact that we are all brothers and sisters, children of One God and Father.
Pope Francis offers an extended meditation on the Parable of the Good Samaritan to guide our reflection. This story is Christ’s answer to the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life.” The parable transcends customary conceptions of neighborliness and who has a claim to our charity. It is not just our blood relations, nor our religious confreres, nor our economic cartels, nor our fellow citizens who are the neighbors we should love as ourselves. The one who has the first and greatest claim on our love is the stranger in need. It is only in loving the stranger that charity finds its perfect expression. All other charity may otherwise be disguised mutual or self-interest.
The life of Saint Francis of Assisi is particularly illustrative of the Gospel imperative of charity. He lived in a time not unlike our own when continual warfare among the city-states of Italy had disrupted the social order and created great amounts of poor. Saint Francis himself risked his life to meet with the Sultan of Egypt to preach a Gospel of peace and brotherhood and not of warfare and subjugation.
I know within our minds the automatic response to such an impractical and lofty ideal is to say, “Yes, but…” The first step to conversion—a biblical word meaning the changing of one’s mind—is to ignore that impulse to reject and simply say, “yes”. There is no doubt that the priest saw the man beaten and lying in the ditch, “yes, but I have obligations to take care of.” And the Levi did the same, “Yes, but I must not tend to his wounds lest I too become impure.” It was the Samaritan, the hated enemy who truly fulfilled the dictates of the law and was moved with compassion for his brother.
I encourage everyone to read the full text of the encyclical which can be found on the Vatican’s website. Saint Francis is the perfect model for our times. We might be amazed at what he was able to accomplish in his short life and the inspiration he has provided for so many generations of Christians and non-Christians alike. But remember that what Saint Francis did was a result of who he was. His dramatic conversion from an impetuous, self-indulgent cad to a man filled with love and gratitude for God’s grace is a story we need to be reminded of. The change we wish to happen in the world must begin with a change in our own hearts, where the love of God casts out all fear and impels us to share that love with all our brothers and sisters of this world.