The Lord gave me brothers. This has been the verse that kept me glued with Christ in the foosteps of Saint Francis of Assisi, practically throughout these past twenty-seven years as a Franciscan Capuchin friar. Furthermore, this has also been the verse that used to catch my eyes since I saw it, for the first time, written on a big beautiful image portraying the Poverello in the recreation room of the Kalkara Capuchin friary.
Fraternity is God’s gift indeed! Let us never forget that God himself is Fraternity, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. And, this is so since God is love, and love is always more than self. Thus, God as God is not alone; Christ as God is not alone; and the Holy Spirit as God is not alone either. God is a Fraternity of a Trinity. The foundational mystery of the Trinity reveals a unity in community which unravels what fraternity should be. Moreover, Christ is not alone too. He was raised within the Holy Family made up of himself, Mary and Joseph. He called to Himself not merely one to follow Him but rather a group of Twelve, the fraternity of the Apostles. On this very basis, Christ, in the Holy Spirit (Luke 10:21), said: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:12-13). Could there be any statement, who came directly from Christ’s lips, more powerfully fraternal than this?
Thus, Franciscanly speaking, our Trinitarian God is relational by nature. In other words, He is a free communion of persons without domination or subordination. Since we, as humans, are made in the likeness of God, we slowly become a free communion of persons without domination or subordination, thus attaining true humility. St. Bonaventure tells us that in the Incarnation, “God humbly bends down to lift the dust of our nature into unity with his own person” (St.Bonaventure: Sermon II On the Nativity of the Lord).
It is precisely through this perspective that we are to read and, according to Fr Kevin Irwin, pray, the third encyclical on fraternity and social frienship, written by Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti. How significant was the fact that the Holy Father celebrated the Eucharist before St. Francis’ Tomb and signed his encyclical on the very anniversary of the Poverello’s death in Assisi. For Fr Irwin, Fratelli tutti is “nothing less than about a way to reread and to live the Gospel for our times”.
But how are we to be and behave with each other as brothers and sisters? We are brothers and sisters to each other because, when we look at others as our brothers and sisters, together we can save ourselves and the world at large! In fact, fraternity can help us defeat the “dark Clouds [that are being formed over a closed world” deformed by misconceptions of democracy, freedom, justice; the loss of the meaning of the social community and history; selfishness and indifference toward the common good; the prevalence of a market logic based on profit and the culture of waste; unemployment, racism, poverty; the disparity of rights and its aberrations such as slavery, trafficking, women subjugated and then forced to abort, and organ trafficking (see nos 10-24). Fraternity can bring down the “culture of walls” that favour the spread of organized crime, heightened by fear and loneliness (see nos 27-28).
If “we were made for love” (no. 88) how can we not care for the strangers on the road by caring for the frail and vulnerable (see no.64-65)? Are we not called to become neighbours to others (see no.81)? On the example of the Good Samaritan are we not called, specifically we Christians, to recognize Christ in the face of every excluded (see no.85), the fallen and the suffering (see no.77)?
As brothers and sisters to each other we have been endowed with the capacity to love according to “a universal dimension” (see no. 83). To do so we must go “‘outside’ the self” in order to find “a fuller existence in another” (see no. 88) through the dynamism of charity which makes us move toward “universal fulfilment” (see no. 95). The family is the hub from where the “primary and vital mission of education” (no 114) for solidarity and fraternity is imparted. Moreover, nations are also geared to become a family of nations wherein “an ethics of international relations” (no, 126) which guarantee the human dignity of every person and the universal destination of created goods (see no.120) should be the order of the day.
The plight of forced migration made Pope Francis appeal to everyone, as brothers and sisters, to respect the right to seek a better life elsewhere. It is vital to strike that delicate balance between the protection of citizens’ rights and the safeguard of welcome and helping for migrants (see 38-40). “Indispensable steps, especially in response to those who are fleeing grave humanitarian crises” (no.130) are needed such as to increase and simplify the granting of visas; to open humanitarian corridors; to assure lodging, security and essential services; to offer opportunities for employment and training; to favour family reunification; to protect minors; to guarantee religious freedom.
We are really brothers and sisters to each other when “a better kind of politics” (no.154), in other words, one that is “truly at the service of the common good” is put into practice (no. 154). The politics we need is the one which protects work which is an “essential dimension of social life” (no.162). This kind of politics puts “human dignity back at the centre and on that pillar build the alternative social structures we need” (no.168). It says no to populism and the dictates of finance and it is tasked with its inherent obligation to tackle pratically every violation of fundamental human rights, such as social exclusion; the marketing of organs, tissues, weapons and drugs; sexual exploitation; slave labour; terrorism, hunger, and organized crime. Pope suggested a very viable way for the UN to reform itself mainly by starting adopting the concept of “family of nations.” The latter grounds more the working for the common good, the eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights the UN is supposed to do. This can be possible if the force of law and not the law of force is wisely applied (see nos.173-175).
Fraternity can really take place if we uphold the importance of dialogue and friendship. This “art of encounter” (no.215), is so important simply because “each of us can learn something from others. No one is useless and no one is expendable” (no. 215). Hence, kindness is decisive because it is a star “shining in the midst of darkness” (no. 222) and “frees us from the cruelty … the anxiety … the frantic flurry of activity” that prevail in the contemporary era (see no. 224).
We really can be brothers and sisters to another if we are people of peace. A peace which is intimately connected with truth, justice and mercy. Peace is proactive because it forms the ethos of serving others, and is achieved “when we strive for justice through dialogue, pursuing reconciliation and mutual development” (no.229). Linked to the “never-ending” task of peace (no.232) is certainly forgiveness. The latter means that “true love for an oppressor means seeking ways to make him cease his oppression; it means stripping him of a power that he does not know how to use, and that diminishes his own humanity and that of others” (no. 241). Forgiveness eschews the destructive power of evil and that poisonous desire for revenge.
If “God’s love is the same for everyone, regardless of religion” (no.281), let us each and everyone of us “pray to God that I truly be the brother [and sister] of all” (no.287), including the unborn (no.18).
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap