Pope Francis — sometimes known as Pope Frank or The People’s Pope — has issued his third encyclical since he became the Pontiff to mark the anniversary of the death of St. Francis of Assisi. An encyclical is a formal declaration that carries far more importance than a sermon or a speech. It is both a directive to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics and a message to world leaders that carries the full weight of papal authority. The full text of the 45,000 word encyclical (in English) can be found at this link. In the first section, Pope Francis writes:
“FRATELLI TUTTI.” With these words, Saint Francis of Assisi addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavour of the Gospel. Of the counsels Francis offered, I would like to select the one in which he calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother “as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him.” In his simple and direct way, Saint Francis expressed the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives.
This saint of fraternal love, simplicity and joy, who inspired me to write the Encyclical Laudato Si’, prompts me once more to devote this new Encyclical to fraternity and social friendship. 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.
Looking Forward. Looking Back
Many will see this latest encyclical as an attempt to influence the current political dysfunction in the United States just a month before the next election. But in truth, it is little more than a restatement of the teachings of Jesus, the lessons many of us learned in our Sunday schools or catechism classes — lessons that all too frequently have gotten lost in the fast paced, technology driven world we live in today. Pope Francis writes,
It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. Fraternity between all men and women. “Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation… We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.
Make no mistake. What he is advocating for is socialism in its purest form, yet socialism has been transmogrified into an epithet, one that is hurled by political leaders at the highest levels to drive wedges between people, contrary to all the teachings of Jesus. The Pope’s message is simple. If we persist in splintering the human community into smaller and smaller special interest groups and strive to pit one against the other, the struggle to maintain the Earth as a place where humans can thrive will be lost. Our only hope of conquering the existential threat that confronts us is to work together. Yet our current political institutions are geared toward divisiveness and conflict. We are going backward instead of forward. Let these words from the encyclical inspire us.
For decades, it seemed that the world had learned a lesson from its many wars and disasters, and was slowly moving towards various forms of integration. For example, there was the dream of a united Europe, capable of acknowledging its shared roots and rejoicing in its rich diversity. We think of “the firm conviction of the founders of the European Union, who envisioned a future based on the capacity to work together in bridging divisions and in fostering peace and fellowship between all the peoples of this continent.” There was also a growing desire for integration in Latin America, and several steps were taken in this direction. In some countries and regions, attempts at reconciliation and rapprochement proved fruitful, while others showed great promise.
Our own days, however, seem to be showing signs of a certain regression. Ancient conflicts thought long buried are breaking out anew, while instances of a myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism are on the rise. In some countries, a concept of popular and national unity influenced by various ideologies is creating new forms of selfishness and a loss of the social sense under the guise of defending national interests. Once more we are being reminded that each new generation must take up the struggles and attainments of past generations, while setting its sights even higher. This is the path. Goodness, together with love, justice and solidarity, are not achieved once and for all; they have to be realized each day. It is not possible to settle for what was achieved in the past and complacently enjoy it, as if we could somehow disregard the fact that many of our brothers and sisters still endure situations that cry out for our attention.
At various points in the encyclical, the Pope is quietly scathing of many aspects of current society. Here are a few samples:
- We are more alone than ever in an increasingly massified world that promotes individual interests and weakens the communitarian dimension of life. Indeed, there are markets where individuals become mere consumers or bystanders. As a rule, the advance of this kind of globalism strengthens the identity of the more powerful, who can protect themselves, but it tends to diminish the identity of the weaker and poorer regions, making them more vulnerable and dependent. In this way, political life becomes increasingly fragile in the face of transnational economic powers that operate with the principle of “divide and conquer.” One effective way to weaken historical consciousness, critical thinking, the struggle for justice and the processes of integration is to empty great words of their meaning or to manipulate them. Nowadays, what do certain words like democracy, freedom, justice or unity really mean? They have been bent and shaped to serve as tools for domination, as meaningless tags that can be used to justify any action.
- To care for the world in which we live means to care for ourselves. Yet we need to think of ourselves more and more as a single family dwelling in a common home. Such care does not interest those economic powers that demand quick profits. Often the voices raised in defence of the environment are silenced or ridiculed, using apparently reasonable arguments that are merely a screen for special interests. In this shallow, short-sighted culture that we have created, bereft of a shared vision, “it is foreseeable that, once certain resources have been depleted, the scene will be set for new wars, albeit under the guise of noble claims.”
- This way of discarding others can take a variety of forms, such as an obsession with reducing labour costs with no concern for its grave consequences, since the unemployment that it directly generates leads to the expansion of poverty. In addition, a readiness to discard others finds expression in vicious attitudes that we thought long past, such as racism, which retreats underground only to keep reemerging. Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think. Some economic rules have proved effective for growth, but not for integral human development. Wealth has increased, but together with inequality, with the result that “new forms of poverty are emerging.”
- In today’s world, the sense of belonging to a single human family is fading, and the dream of working together for justice and peace seems an outdated utopia. What reigns instead is a cool, comfortable and globalized indifference, born of deep disillusionment concealed behind a deceptive illusion: thinking that we are all-powerful, while failing to realize that we are all in the same boat. This illusion, unmindful of the great fraternal values, leads to a sort of cynicism. For that is the temptation we face if we go down the road of disenchantment and disappointment… Isolation and withdrawal into one’s own interests are never the way to restore hope and bring about renewal. Rather, it is closeness; it is the culture of encounter. Isolation, no; closeness, yes. Culture clash, no; culture of encounter, yes.
The Lessons Of Covid-19
The global pandemic that surrounds us has ripped the cover off the notion that today’s financial and political institutions will protect us from harm. Instead, the deficiencies in those institutions have been exposed, leaving us more vulnerable than we ever imagined. Pope Francis writes:
- If everything is connected, it is hard to imagine that this global disaster is unrelated to our way of approaching reality, our claim to be absolute masters of our own lives and of all that exists. I do not want to speak of divine retribution, nor would it be sufficient to say that the harm we do to nature is itself the punishment for our offences. The world is itself crying out in rebellion….Once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation. God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of “them” and “those”, but only “us”. If only this may prove not to be just another tragedy of history from which we learned nothing. If only we might keep in mind all those elderly persons who died for lack of respirators, partly as a result of the dismantling, year after year, of healthcare systems. If only this immense sorrow may not prove useless, but enable us to take a step forward towards a new style of life. If only we might rediscover once for all that we need one another, and that in this way our human family can experience a rebirth, with all its faces, all its hands and all its voices, beyond the walls that we have erected.
- I realize that some people are hesitant and fearful with regard to migrants. I consider this part of our natural instinct of self-defence. Yet it is also true that an individual and a people are only fruitful and productive if they are able to develop a creative openness to others. I ask everyone to move beyond those primal reactions becausthere is a problem when doubts and fears condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even — without realizing it — racist. In this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter “the other.”
Listen To The Words Of The Teacher
Let me state that I am no kind of religious person. I subscribe to no organized religion, attend no regular religious services, and am not involved in evangelical outreach. But I am not an atheist — far from it, in fact. I look at the images from the Hubble space telescope and am in awe of how much human beings do not know. I am pretty sure that whatever unifying life force their may be in the universe is not concerned with who wins a sporting contest, war, or other human contest. I do not think in terms of a God but rather the notion of a Singularity — a force or consciousness that permeates the entire universe. I am also pretty sure the human brain is far too puny to comprehend the enormity of such a universal cognizance, so we make up myths to cloak our lack of comprehension. But I did attend Sunday school way back when and believe the words Pope Francis chose for this latest encyclical are very close in spirit and tone to those of Jesus himself.
It seems clear to me that if we have any hope of meeting the challenge of an overheating planet, we are going to need a concerted and coordinated global effort. It’s not about Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter. It’s about how All Lives Matter, a concept we work very hard to suppress and ignore. If I were to chose an anthem to represent my world view, it would be the song Get Together by the Youngbloods. “Love is but a song to sing; Fear’s the way we die….”
YIP Harburg was a humorist and song writer a century ago and one of the creative forces behind The Wizard of Oz. He liked to write satirical ditties and one of his best is this gem.
God made the world in six days flat.
On the seventh he said, “I’ll rest.”
So he let the thing into orbit swing
To give it a dry run test.
A billion years went by,
Then he took a look at the whirling blob.
His spirits fell as he said,
“Oh, well. It was only a six day job.”
Note: There was a 2019 Netflix special entitled The Two Popes. It is a thoughtful, insightful, and sometimes harsh look at the lives of both Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Benedict. It is warm and human and well worth your time if you have a 2 hour opening in your viewing schedule. It offers a deeper understanding of Pope Francis, where he came from, and the events that shaped his views on religion and humanity. Highly recommended viewing.
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