Fratelli Tutti:
True fraternity is found in Christ

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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: For Love of Country: A Catholic Patriotism

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Our country has been through a lot this last year, as we all know. As many people have reacted against the founding and history of the United States, I have found myself drawn towards greater patriotism. By this, I simply mean a deeper appreciation of what I’ve been given by my country and also a growing realization of the duty I have to work for the common good, here and now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this duty under the fourth commandment that enjoins honor not only to parents but also to anyone in authority.   

It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community (2239). 

Catholics, and all people of good will, are called to a love and service of country in order to work for the common good.  

Eric Metaxas argues that the future of our country depends precisely upon the active role of Christians in his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (Penguin, 2017). He describes something called the Golden Triangle, an idea he borrowed from Os Guinness, but which ultimately comes from the Founding Fathers. “The Golden Triangle of Freedom is, when reduced to its most basic form, that freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; and faith requires freedom. The three go round and round, supporting one another ad infinitum. If any one of the three legs of the triangle is removed, the whole structure ceases to exist” (54). John Adams, for example, related very clearly, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (quoted on 61). Metaxas comments, looking to specific examples around the world, “if you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart. It cannot be otherwise” (48). It cannot be otherwise. That may sound extreme, but we have many examples from Communist and Fascist countries and now even from movements within our country that aggressive secularism parallels a collapse of real freedom.  

The Constitution established an ordered liberty that requires responsibility and a determined effort of preservation. Hence the title of the book, taken from Benjamin Franklin, a republic “if you can keep it.” We are called to actively preserve our country: entering into a deeper understanding of the “idea” of America that undergirds the Republic as well as showing a loving determination to overcome challenges and threats to its continuance. This is not to whitewash the past, as we all know the injustices of our history. Metaxas argues that we can be grateful for the good and unique blessings of our heritage while also working to overcome failures. “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously” (226). Furthermore, by loving our country we are willing her good, drawing our own selves into the work for her good and helping her to be true to herself. “So that in loving America we are embodying her original intentions — we are indeed being America at her best — and in doing so we are calling her to her best, to be focused on doing all she can to fulfill the great promise which God has called her in bringing her into existence and shepherding her through trials and tribulations all these and centuries — and now” (235).  

As Catholics, we have a lot to offer our country by drawing from our rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. Michael Krom, a philosopher at St. Vincent College, provides us with a great resource in his new book, Justice and Charity: An Introduction to Aquinas’s Moral, Economic, and Political Thought (Baker, 2020). In an age of confusion, Catholics can bring greater clarity in our national discourse on the nature of human life, virtue, and politics. “We live in a time of ideological conflicts, in which the citizens of the nations of the modern world seem incapable of agreeing upon even the most basic of moral, economic, or political principles. Civil discourse has been replaced with violent protest, and reasoned dialogue with character assassination” (2). As Catholics, we should be able to look above all of this, literally: “While the Church does not force us to reject political citizenship, she demands that we direct it to the heavenly, and we can do that by heeding her call to engage the world rather than conform to it. I wrote this book out of the conviction that those who want to heed the Church’s call to engage our culture need to look to the past” (ibid.).  

Dr. Krom shows us that St. Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about living the good life, in pursuit of a genuine freedom and happiness, and that this should inform a Catholic approach to economics and politics. It is hard to work for virtue if you don’t know what virtue really is, and difficult to act justly toward others if you don’t understand the nature of duty. Aquinas can help us to judge the direction of our country, as “a government cannot be called ‘good’ unless it promotes just moral and economic relationships between its citizens” (121). This is precisely the purpose of government — to promote right order and peace. We can’t just dispense with politics because, “the fact that humans find their fulfillment in political community means that situating their own good with the good of the community as a whole is central to happiness” (125). We are not isolated individuals and can’t attain a good and complete life on our own.  

Our ultimate good, however, is God, not the political life. Everything — all of our choices, including economic and political ones — must be directed to our ultimate goal. There are not “two ends to human existence, the earthly and the heavenly … [T]here is only one end, the beatific vision” (162). In this way the Church informs our citizenship. Krom explains “how inadequate this human law is as a teacher in the virtues, for it is limited in scope to the prevention of those vices from which even the wicked can refrain, and thus leaves those who seek after perfect virtue to their own devices … [H]uman law is in need of a higher law to truly bring about a just community” (155). Unfortunately, we’re seeing that our society is no longer even trying to prevent serious vice. Catholics and all believers have an important role to play, because “the lack of religion in the citizenry leads it down the path of totalitarianism. It Is absolutely critical that a people maintain a strong commitment to a transcendent measure of the common good in order to protect the true flourishing of its members” (171). Krom’s important work on justice and charity can teach us how a Catholic can exercise a proper patriotism, a true love of country.