29 Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 18, 2020
On October 3, the day prior to the official feast day of Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis traveled the short distance from Rome to the hometown of the saint, whose name he chose when he became our shepherd. Although the trip was prearranged, not at all spontaneous, it was done with very little fanfare. Much of the Holy Father’s visit was spent in private prayer and reflection. After celebrating Mass in a nearly empty Church, several copies of his encyclical, which had yet to be made public, were placed on the altar close to the tomb of St. Francis. After quietly signing the document, he returned to the car that brought him, and simply traveled back to the Vatican. It apparently was a somber affair.
The Pope chose that holy place for the signing ceremony because his namesake’s life and teaching inspired the content of the 86-page document entitled:
The title itself is borrowed from the writings, teachings, and brilliant example of the humble saint.
Although most Catholics are unlikely to read the eight chapters of the text, all humankind should at least be aware of its existence. The Holy Father refers to his encyclical as a “social document.” Some commentators find it political in tone. (Certainly, he will be criticized for interjecting himself into civil concerns.) Still, approaching the text with an open mind and heart, one cannot help but see it for what it truly is…spiritual thoughts inspired by the Gospel.
The somber tone of the signing ceremony was in keeping with the message. The opening chapter is called:
Dark Clouds over a Closed World
There is a very definite sense of urgency in the Holy Father’s description of the global impact of Covid-19, which has left people around the world feeling “closed off and isolated.” Relying heavily on passages from the Gospel familiar to all Christians, Francis begins to describe how the post-pandemic world can, and should, look.
Speaking to the healing process that has yet to begin, the Pope points out that whenever Jesus cured someone of a physical condition, He “healed” their relationship with the community as well. Francis urges us to consider that the corona virus is not the only global affliction humankind is struggling with today. There are also economic, environmental, and spiritual sicknesses that are ravaging our world and crippling our ability to be in healthy and life-giving relationships with those who look, act, or think differently. If these socioeconomic illnesses are not confronted: “things will only get worse.”
The symptoms of the socioeconomic pandemic include widening divisions within and between nations. People are having ever greater difficulty in finding common ground, even within families, neighborhoods, our Church, and most certainly among nations. If Covid affects the sense of taste…the socioeconomic pandemic has made it next to impossible for people with differing views and opinions to communicate. Rather than digging in, we need to start climbing out, meeting one another in the light…THE LIGHT OF CHRIST. On the surface, we will see each other for who we truly are:
BROTHERS AND SISTERS ALL!
Those who are inclined to be critical of Pope Francis, accusing him of wandering far afield from the spiritual realm, invading the political arena, where some believe he does not belong, might consider a deeper reflection on this Sunday’s First Reading. What God is telling us through Isaiah has been brilliantly explained by theologian Monika Hellwig.
Political power is given for the sake of the people, but the authority it carries is from God, and is conferred so that the divine purpose in the world might be realized. Political power is not personal property for those who wield it, but a mandate from God for the implementing of the divine purpose for the whole people. (Gladness Their Escort, The Liturgical Press 1987)
And the “divine purpose” is that humankind should live and communicate and cooperate as
BROTHERS AND SISTERS ALL!
This encyclical gives to God what belongs to God. It gives voice to “the Divine purpose;” in other words, GOD’S WILL AND GOD’S WAY!
At the same time, it offers those who govern something beyond tax dollars. It offers guidance as to how civil authority might better rule so that “the Divine purpose” is woven into the rule of law. People of faith owe it to those who hold political office to give guidance on how they might better ensure that God’s purpose is the law of the land.
Fratelli tutti concludes with a prayer. Let us pray.
A Prayer to the Creator
Lord, Father of our human family,
you created all human beings equal in dignity:
Pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit
and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,
dialogue, justice, and peace.
Move us to create healthier societies
and a more dignified world,
a world without hunger, poverty, violence, and war.
May our hearts be open
to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
May we recognize the goodness and beauty
that you have sown in each of us,
and thus, forge bonds of unity, common projects,
and shared dreams. Amen.