Paris, Nigeria: brotherhood rejected

The need for peace in every corner of the world has been weighing upon my heart following the terrorist attacks in Paris and the mass slaughter of thousands by Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The calculated brutality of these attacks has stunned us all and made our hearts ache. But the cause of these murders is nothing new—it goes all the way back to Cain and Abel.

Pope Francis noted this in his 2014 Message for the World Day of Peace, where he stated, “Cain’s murder of Abel bears tragic witness to his radical rejection of their vocation to be brothers. Their story (cf. Gn 4:1-16) brings out the difficult task to which all men and women are called, to live as one, each taking care of the other.”

There has been much discussion in France, in the press and in our own country about the importance of defending freedom of speech, but there is another side to the debate. The ability to freely express ourselves must be tempered by respect for the dignity of others, including their beliefs. Free speech needs to be exercised within our larger vocation to be brothers and sisters to one another.

Peace is missing in our world. There are many contributing factors to this situation, such as poverty, corruption, a lack of education and jobs, or hatred of others because of their religious beliefs, but at the heart of it all stands a rejection of the vocation to be a brother or sister. It is a failure to follow the second great commandment “to love your neighbor as yourself.”

This refusal creates a world that is deficient in love and forgiveness, and it breeds a society that thoughtlessly discards the dignity of others, and among some, even justifies murder and violence. This dynamic was on display in the Paris attacks, the massacre in Nigeria and in many other violent events.

Although the severity of their rejection varies greatly, both those who drew the cartoons that offended many Muslims and the gunmen who attacked the cartoonists, turned away from their call to brotherhood.

The radical Islamist group Boko Haram carried out its deadliest massacre yet in northeastern Nigeria last week, taking the lives of some 2,000 people in the villages of Baga and Doron Baga. Certainly these men have violently cast aside their vocation to be brothers to their fellow Nigerians. Yet the Nigerian government’s failure to protect its people and to tackle some of the underlying causes that have attracted young people to Boko Haram is also an abandonment of its duty to serve its brothers and sisters.

I want to be clear that by saying this I am not in any way equating the evil of murder with insulting someone’s religion. Instead, I am pointing to their shared roots: the disregard shown for a brother or sister, the failure to respect the inherent dignity of the human person.

If the world is going to become a more peaceful place, then we must be faithful to our vocation to brotherhood, which we received from God when we were given the gift of life.

While flying between Sri Lanka and the Philippines on Jan. 15, Pope Francis spoke to reporters about free speech. Each person, he said, has “the obligation to say what one thinks to help the common good. … We have the obligation to speak openly, to have this liberty, but without giving offense …” In other words, he explained, “there is a limit” to free speech, and that limit is determined by what will respect the other person’s dignity.

This means people deserve the truth about what will help them flourish; they deserve to hear the Gospel and be introduced to Jesus. The truth, though, must be proclaimed in love.

Treating every person as a brother or sister, especially those who do not love us in return, requires God’s grace. As Catholics, we know that Cain’s rejection of Abel and his brotherly vocation was redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In Christ, all human relationships can be restored and every person can become an adopted son or daughter of the Father.

We are called to be people who respond to what Pope Francis calls the “globalization of indifference” by fostering a culture of solidarity and fraternity, beginning in our own families, parishes and neighborhoods. We are called to share the truth in love in these places.

When each of us faces Christ at our final judgment, he will ask us what we did for our fellow man. May we be able to say that we saw the face of Christ in the face of every person—a brother, a sister—and did for them what we would do for Christ (Mt 25: 40). Without a renewed fidelity to our vocation in Christ as brothers and sisters, a commitment to caring for the least and living the fullness of the Gospel in humility, the world will only become more violent and more divided.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash