“Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!
In your presence the mountains would quake …
so that nations would tremble at your presence,
at the unhoped for wonders you would do.”
Advent devotions sometimes cite this verse from the Prophet Isaiah (64:1). It expresses the longing of God’s people, Israel, for a restoration of a just society. Twenty-five centuries later, the Church of our day knows the same longing.
In two acclaimed Encyclical Letters, Care for our Common Home (Laudato Si’ 2014) and On Fraternity and Social Friendship (Fratelli tutti 2020), Pope Francis views the life of a Christian through this prism.
Three short reflections, available on the Parish Blog during Advent, are inspired by a concise presentation of these Encyclicals by Cardinal Luis Tagle. He is the prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, and a former Archbishop of Manila. The talk was given late in October at the Gregorian University in Rome. I hope readers enjoy them as much as I enjoyed hearing the Cardinal’s presentation which is easily found on YouTube.
In a stroke of masterly teaching, both Encyclicals recall a figure dear to our Christian imagination. Who better than St Francis of Assisi to head up a call to steward justly our common home in pursuit of a reconciled humanity in the world (Laudato Si’, 10-12)? Who better than the Samaritan traveller who rescued a stranger lying by the roadside to stir us to practise brotherly and sisterly care for one another (Fratelli tutti, ch. 2)?
The Bible records the fractured relationships of many siblings. Fratricide appears as Genesis 4 testifies to the murderous jealousy of Cain towards his brother Abel. Abraham’s decision to send away Ishmael (Gn 21), the half-brother of his son Isaac, initiates all the forced exiles that litter history. Human trafficking rears its head in the episode in which the eleven sons of Jacob sell their youngest brother, Joseph, into slavery in Egypt (Gn 37).
When we have heard or viewed online the proclamation of the gospel according to Mark in our assembly this year, we were reminded of the ambition of James and John (esp. Mk 10:35-45).
The suggestion of habitual bickering between the sisters of Lazarus evokes the familiar territory of sibling rivalry (Jn 11).
In some quarters, Pope Francis is believed to betray the Gospel because he emphasises its social and ecological dimensions. Love of God is expressed in love of neighbour (Mk 12:28-34; 1 Jn 1:3). Cardinal Tagle clarifies that “neglect of neighbour and misuse of creation are mutually dependent and reinforce each other”. Love of neighbour is implicit in just stewardship of the world’s resources. His thought mirrors Laudato si’, 48: “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together.”
Fratelli tutti was written in 2020 as the Covid 19 pandemic raged. In many writings and addresses, Francis drew our attention to the deepening, by dint of the pandemic, of pre-existing fractures in the social, cultural, economic and political fabric of our societies.
In addition to the fragility of an aged person, weakened care systems aggravated the incidence of death among the elderly. In addition to the ravages of conflict in northern Africa and in central and southern Asia, the failure to bring vaccines in a timely manner leaves the same populations defenceless against Covid 19. Cardinal Tagle remarked that disasters and conflicts devastate the poor more severely.
In chapter one of Fratelli tutti, “Dark Clouds over a Closed World”, the Pope lists instances like these among others. The description recalls Isaiah, “Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!”
The following instalments will consider our conversion to justice and building peace.
By Michael McEntee, retired parish priest.