18 Oct 2020

St. Mary’s Basilica Sydney + livestream, 18 October 2020

Fratelli Tutti, the title of Pope Francis’ latest encyclical,[1] comes from his name-saint, Francis of Assisi,[2] as did the title of his previous encyclical, Laudato Si’. Where theearlier document focussed upon our responsibilities for the natural environment, the new one attends to our human ecosystem. Back in May the Holy Father reflected upon the way the pandemic has united people of different faiths in prayer and penance,[3] quoting St Francis to the effect that we are Fratelli Tutti, all sisters and brothers, all in this together. Now he explores this theme of friendship and fraternity at length – 43,000 words length in fact, in 287 paragraphs and as many footnotes – but in a way that is very accessible. Links to the text and to summaries and reading guides will soon be available on the Archdiocesan website. I commend them to your attention.

Globalisation has undoubtedly universalised and homogenised culture in many ways but it has not necessarily increased our sense of being one family. The Holy Father is particularly troubled by the isolationist turn in our culture, the declining sense of common humanity and the consequent disrespect and division [12, 30-31 etc.]. Amongst the storm clouds he identifies are:

  • a cultural and historical amnesia that encourages a shallow, rootless individualism [13-14]
  • a defensive nationalism reversing previous moves towards greater international integration [10-12]
  • a culture of polarization, extremism, trolling and despair [15-17]
  • a throwaway society that readily disposes of those regarded as unuseful, unprofitable or unloved [18-21]
  • a ‘piecemeal third world war’ of acts of warfare and of terrorism, racial or religious persecution, modern slavery and other affronts to human dignity [22-28]
  • pressures driving mass migration but also hostility to new-comers [37-41]
  • a deficit of moral wisdom to match our technological advances [29]
  • a digital world offering more information than wisdom, where people are often exposed or vilified, and where aggressive ideologies and fanaticism are promoted [42-53] and
  • a self-protectiveness and feverish consumerism all too evident in response to our current pandemic [32-36].

Pope Francis could undoubtedly have identified more challenges. But he is already the most prominent current critic of modernity, even as he recognises its many positive dimensions. He turns next in his Letter to Holy Scripture – especially the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) – for some wisdom about how to grow or recover human solidarity [56-86].

In this morning’s Gospel we hear Jesus’ famous teaching that we should “render unto Caesar what is [properly] Caesar’s and to God what is [properly] God’s” (Mt 22:15-21). This is the origin of the separation of church and state, each with its own particular goals, methods, authorities and demands upon our minds and hearts. Sometimes the two overlap, and there are occasions both for rivalry and for collaboration. One simple reading of the doctrine would be that while externally we must observe the laws of the land, of Caesar, internally we subject ourselves to the laws of God. It’s no business of the state on this view, to tell us what to believe and no business of the Church to dictate to law and politics.

Of course, that’s too simple. We all know that our conscience, values and beliefs are shaped both by our culture and our faith. Our actions express our personal beliefs and morals as much as any current social consensus. Next Sunday we will read from later in the same conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees and Sadducees in this morning’s Gospel, when He teaches that love is the greatest commandment and that love of God and love of neighbour are two sides of the same coin.[4] Divine love or charity, Pope Francis points out in the new encyclical, shapes our character, increases appreciation of others, draws people out of themselves and creates new bonds and horizons. Such love transcends barriers and proposes a new imperative that extends us beyond our own family or tribe, indeed makes others fratelli tutti, all members of our family and tribe.[5] This, he proposes, is how a healthy human ecology works.

“Receiving Angels Unawares” – statue in St Peter’s Square commemorating refugees and migrants

Regarding others as our sisters and brothers is not just a creedal commitment or a feeling. The Pope explores the many practical ways it plays out, for example in approaches to national borders, civic life, indigenous rights, modern slavery, warfare, executions, ecology, consumerism and more. Some of these teachings are clear conclusions of Catholic social doctrine; others, prudential applications occasioning further reflection and discussion.

Indeed the Pope suggests that what the world needs now is love – political love, social love, economic love [chs 5-7]. Leaving aside recent controversies, the Pope would say our political leaders should be great lovers – lovers of their own citizens and of all humanity – who express that friendship with the flowers of law and the chocolates of public policy. Christian faith should inspire such loving, in our leaders, in our politics as elsewhere in our community [ch. 8]: rendering love to God will enable and promote rendering love to all. As Paul says today, the Good News must be more than mere words for us; it must be what empowers and inspires a life of love (1 Thess 1:1-5). Rendering to God what is God’s is not merely some sort of internal intellectual or spiritual act, but also a whole of life body-and-soul activity in the external world, making our every act one of self-sacrifice and worship.

On this Mission Sunday we recall the words of the second century Church father, Tertullian of Carthage. He reported that what converted the pagans more than Christian words and arguments was the witness of Christian love. “See how these Christians love one another,” they said, “and how ready they are even to die for each other!” May our love convert the world in this millennium also.


Before Genuflecting

Because current circumstances continue to impede attendance at Mass and reception of Holy Communion, I invite those who are joining us by live-streaming to ask God that by the grace of spiritual communion, they might receive all they would in sacramental communion. Offer this Mass and your hunger for the Eucharist for the safety of your loved ones, of yourselves and of all our world.

[1] Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti: Encyclical Letter on Fraternity and Social Friendship, 3 October 2020, http://www.vatican.va/content/ francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html#_ftnref31. Numbers in [square brackets] are paragraphs of this document.

[2] St. Francis of Assisi, Admonitions, 6,1. English translation in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Vol. 1 (New York, London, Manila, 1999), p. 131, https://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/wosf/wosf03.htm

[3] Pope Francis, Homily for the Day of Prayer and Fasting, 14 May 2020, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/cotidie/2020/ documents/papa-francesco-cotidie_20200514_giornodi-fratellanza-penitenza-preghiera.html

[4] Mt 22:34-40; cf. Lk 10:25-37 cited in [56].

[5] [1, 39, 56-62, 85, 88, 91-95, 99, 143, 151, 165, 180-97, 230, 241, 276-83]

Welcome to St Mary’s Basilica in Sydney, whether physically or virtually, for the Solemn Mass of the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time. It is a cause of joy that more people are now permitted to gather here for Sunday Mass and a sign of hope that bit-by-bit things are returning to ‘normal’. But the worldwide pandemic is far from over, and so we continue to pray for the sick and the dead, the anxious or at risk, for carers and researchers, those affected economically or those leading us through this crisis.

I ask you also to remember in your prayers the students beginning their Higher School Certificate examinations this week: that despite the stress, they will achieve what they deserve, and go on to be the leaders and servants our Church and society need in the years ahead.

Today is World Mission Sunday, an annual celebration promulgated 94 years ago by Pope Pius XI. Nowadays, we better appreciate that the mission is not just to ‘deepest darkest Peru’, as Paddington Bear would say, but to ‘post-Christian’ Australia, and that it’s the mission not just for heroic priests and nuns, but of every Christian. That we might worthily “render unto God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:15-21) we repent of our sins…