Fratelli Tutti:
True fraternity is found in Christ

By Father Luis Granados

In his new Encyclical, Pope Francis invites us to reflect on our universal fraternity. Its title – Fratelli Tutti – comes from an advice of St. Francis of Assisi: “Let us all, brothers (Fratelli Tutti), consider the Good Shepherd who to save His sheep bore the suffering of the Cross” (Admonitions, 6.1). Transformed by Christ, St. Francis was filled with a love that “transcends the barriers of geography and distance” (n. 1). He 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 (n. 2), especially the most vulnerable.

The Holy Father opens his encyclical recalling a unique episode in the life of St. Francis: his visit to the Sultan in Egypt. Risking his life and ready to become a martyr, he embraced the many hardships of this journey. When he finally encountered the Sultan and proclaimed the Gospel of Christ, he “did not wage a war of words” but spread the love of God (n.4). The interest of the medieval saint was the Sultan’s conversion and baptism. When “among the Saracenes and other nonbelievers,” St. Francis and his disciples were to consider two ways: the first was not to engage in disputes, but to be subject to every creature for God’s sake, and to acknowledge that they themselves are Christians. The second was to proclaim the word of God so that the unbelievers might believe, be baptized and become Christians (Earlier Rule of the Friars Minor, 16; n. 3). 

The saint of Assisi treated the muslin with the respect and love of a brother, since he discovered in him a human being, created by God, and loved by God for himself. On the other hand, since the Sultan was not yet baptized, he was not his brother in Christ. Out of his love for him, he preached the Gospel of the love of God with the hope of his conversion and baptism. 

Although there is a universal fraternity, in Christ we discover a deeper bond. We need to distinguish, therefore, between our universal fraternity as God’s creatures, and our fraternity in Christ as Christians. The former is fulfilled in the latter. 

In his encyclical, Pope Francis discusses the parable of the Good Samaritan, a stranger who helped another stranger without any consideration of race, nation, religion or color. He stopped, approached the man and cared for him personally. “He also gave him something that in our frenetic world we cling to tightly: he gave him his time” (n. 63). Like the saint of Assisi, the good Samaritan was able to recognize his brother in the stranger and to risk his life and goods for him. Finally, he brought him to the inn, which according to St. John Chrysostom and other Church Fathers, represents the Church. His attention for his neighbor was not completed until he brought him to Christ.

Which is the brotherhood that exists among us? Sometimes we see ourselves as surrounded by wolves. This would seem to be the lesson of the first couple of brothers, Cain and Abel. However, universal fraternity is possible because we all come from the hands of God. Without him we would not be brothers but orphans. A universal fraternity without God is the one we find in the political and revolutionary program of the Enlightenment and of Marxism. In “The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood” (1960), Joseph Ratzinger described these non-Christian versions of fraternity. The French Revolution proclaimed liberty, equality and fraternity, but differentiated radically and bloodily between revolutionaries and non-revolutionaries. A similar deception is manifested today in masonry and its differentiated inner fraternal groups. Marxism likewise makes us “comrades,” but not “brothers,” because there is no common Father, there is no God. There is only the battle between capital and proletariat toward a classless society.

In order to understand the truth of our universal fraternity and the proposal of Pope Francis, I believe we need to consider three important steps. First, our universal fraternity comes from God and the order he established in creation. We cannot be brothers without a father. As Pope Francis puts it, equality is not achieved “by an abstract proclamation that all men and women are equal” (n. 104). “Fraternity necessarily calls for something greater, which in turn enhances freedom and equality” (n. 103). This is not just an idea or an energy, but a real person: God the Father of Jesus Christ. Secondly, because of our sin, such fraternity can only be recovered through the death and resurrection of Christ. Pope Francis declares that “for us the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (n. 277). Finally, this universal bond is not yet complete until baptism, when we will be brothers in Christ. “You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers” (Mt 23:8).

With these three pillars in mind, we can anticipate the strategy of the enemies of universal fraternity. According to the diagnosis of the first chapter of Fratelli Tutti, our individualistic and consumeristic society has generated a “throwaway world,” our first and most radical enemy. Here “persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ – like the unborn, or ‘no longer needed’ – like the elderly” (n. 18). This is manifested in the decline of the birthrate and in the relegation of the elderly to a sad and lonely existence. We “disfigure and impoverish the family itself,” (n.19) and are led to “exploit, discard and even kill human beings” (n. 22). It becomes “a perversion that exceeds all limits when it subjugates women and then forces them to abort” (n. 24).   

We cannot consider here the many topics discussed in the encyclical: the common good and the role of property (nn. 88-127), the meaning of borders and the relationship between the local and the universal (nn. 128-153), a better kind of politics (nn. 154-197), dialogue and friendship in society (nn. 198-224), the value of forgiveness and memory (nn. 225-270), and the mission of religions at the service of fraternity (nn. 271-287). We can however see that the key to understand all these issues is our universal fraternity. And how could we build a solid fraternity unless upon the foundation of God the Creator? Where could we find the strength to cultivate it but in the love of Jesus, the Good Shepherd? And what would be the goal of this fraternity but to become brothers and sisters in Christ? 

Like St. Francis visiting the Sultan and the Good Samaritan, we are not called to remain passive, but to go out and evangelize. The Holy Father closes his encyclical talking about blessed Charles de Foucauld, who wanted to be a “universal brother” to all who drew close to him. The missionary fell in love with the mystery of the Incarnation. His greatest desire became to follow Christ with humility and poverty, and bring many to him: “I would like to be sufficiently good that people would say, ‘If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?’” 

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.