Listen to Episode 2 of “Wisdom of Pope Francis”, an exploration into the teachings of the pope and how we can apply it to our lives. You can find it (and all the episodes) in all these places:
Hello! And welcome to the Wisdom of Pope Francis podcast. I am Catholic Anonymous. You can can check out more of my stuff – stories, poetry, music, posts – at catholicanonymous.blog.
Currently, on this podcast, I am diving into Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, or open letter to the church and world called “Fratelli Tutti.” which in english means “all brothers”, or even “all brothers and sisters” depending on how you read it. In this episode, I’m going to discuss some takeaways I took from the introduction of this letter..
If you haven’t read the introduction, I highly recommend you do. I’ll link to where you might find the document on my site and hopefully in the description. It will give more context to what I say in this podcast.
The letter itself is inspired by St. Francis, the saint Pope Francis named himself after when he became Pope. St. Francis lived around 1000 years ago, and he was known for his dedication to the poor, his own life of poverty, and his sense of kinship and brotherhood with all people and even all creatures. He also started a new order, or group, of monks
It’s that brotherhood, that fraternity and friendship, that Pope Francis really zeroes in on in this encyclical. That’s what this letter is about. And he sums this message up best, I think, in a joint statement he made awhile ago with the Muslim Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb. In that document that both of them signed off in, they said this:
God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and has called them to live together as brothers and sisters.From the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together
That brings me to my first thought from this intro. It’s hard for me to imagine any need so great in our world today – especially in the United States – as the need for us to see each other as friends, as brothers and sisters part of the same family. I know it’s cliche, but it’s more true now than ever that we need each other. Globalization has brought us all closer together in this enormous, interconnected web of contacts, economic needs, and relationships. If we can’t at least tone down the heat in our conversations and relationships today so we can work together and learn from each other, what are we going to do?
What does it mean to live together as brothers and sisters? Those are the questions this encyclical is trying to answer. And it’s a question that’s not just for Catholics. As Pope Francis puts it:
Although I have written [this encyclical] from the Christian convictions that inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will.Introduction, Article 6
You get the sense, all over his introduction, that Pope Francis is trying to reach out to everybody. He’s inviting the rest of the world into this conversation.
As I said earlier, he draws greatly from his model, St. Francis, and he had a fascinating story to share about him. Everyone has at least heard about the Crusades. If you don’t know about them, the Crusades were a military response to Muslim aggression but took on a life of their own. Scholars have debated to what extent Catholics and the Catholic church were or were not justified in their fighting. That’s a separate issue. I will not dive into the Crusades here.
However you see that, in this historical context, while these crusades were going on, St. Francis went on his own sort of personal crusade with his fellow Catholic men in his order. It wasn’t a military one, though. He wanted to spread the love of Christ to the Muslims that so many of his countrymen were fighting. And he met with and dialogued with Sultan Malik-e-Kamil in Egypt, which is a fascinating story in it’s own right.
At any rate, Pope Francis says that St. Francis counseled his spiritual brothers that…
“if they found themselves ‘among the Saracens [the Muslims] and other nonbelievers’, without renouncing their own identity they were not to ‘engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake.'”Fratelli Tutti, Article 3
This is another takeaway I took from his introduction. This is really fascinating. St. Francis felt that the way his fellow Catholics needed to evangelize Muslims, or spread the love of God to Muslims or other people who had different faiths, was not to argue with them. It was to first to be subject to them, and then to have a conversation. And this is exactly what St. Francis did with Sultan Malik-e-Kamil. There was this exchange of ideas and mutual respect between them.
Now, I want to be clear, as a Catholic person, I see no distinction between wanting to love someone and wanting to tell them about Jesus. It’s one and the same thing to me. If I love you, I’ll want to draw you into my faith. It’s why I do what I do in this podcast and on my blog. But there is an important caveat to that. Pope Francis says this about St. Francis,
…he became a father to all and inspired the vision of a fraternal society. Indeed, ‘only the man who approaches others, not to draw them into his own life, but to help them become ever more fully themselves, can truly be called a father.Article 4
Only the person who comes to others – not to draw them into his own life, but to help them become more fully themselves – can be called a father. I ask this of myself as much as anybody: when I seek to get someone else to agree with me, when I argue with them about how I’m right and they’re wrong, am I doing it because I truly love them? Not because I want to make them some spiritual copy of myself, but because I want them to be truly themselves, as God made them? Like a flower opening up, unfolding to the sun? And I pose this question to you, listening, because I don’t have the answer to this. How do we do that?
So that’s all on the micros level – how we as individuals interact with each other. But he closes with an interesting thought on the macro level, on the world stage, which I think foreshadows the rest of the letter. He has this to say about what Covid 19 has brought about in our world today:
Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned [from the pandemic] was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.Article 7
This is an ominous quote, and is a springboard for a much larger conversation. As many economists and thinkers have been saying, Covid 19 has revealed all the cracks we have always had in society. In the US in particular, it has revealed how fragile our health care system is, how polarized our country is, in what dire economic positions so many of our fellow citizens live, the dysfunction in our government, and our racial tension that has been just underneath the surface for so long. Not to mention how fragile we are globally. Many developed nations will get through this, but where will this leave poorer countries that can’t just print their own money and expect everything to be fine?
There is a danger in getting through this and coming out the other side thinking, “Well, that was crazy. Let’s get back to normal.” The point I think Pope Francis is making is that the stress-test of this pandemic has shown that normal really wasn’t working.
We are a family. We are brothers and sisters in this world. That is what Pope Francis is trying to say. If that is the case, then all these problems that are bubbling up to the surface because of Covid 19 need to be addressed. To whatever extent they can be.
So those are my thoughts on the introduction to his latest encyclical. Now, I am just a lowly man here, giving my thoughts. I would love to know what you think. Do you think I’m wrong? Do you agree with these ideas Pope Francis is putting forward? If you’ve read the introduction to this encyclical, what did you gain from it yourself?
Please go to the podcast section at catholicanonymous.blog and leave a comment. Also, if you like this episode, and you’d like to hear more of it, make sure you subscribe wherever you get the Wisdom of Pope Francis podacast.
Till next week, God bless.
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