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The theological heart of “Fratelli Tutti,” and where to find hope

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Pope Francis’ reflection on the Good Samaritan offers a poignant examination of our interior selves.

Quietly at the tomb of St. Francis, after celebrating an unembellished Mass in honor of the great saint on the eve of his feast, Pope Francis signed his new encyclical letter, Fratelli tutti.

The encyclical, the third such letter of Pope Francis’ pontificate, focuses on the themes of fraternity and social friendship. The title of the letter, Fratelli tuttiwhich means “all brothers”—comes from an admonition of St. Francis of Assisi. The quoted line reads, “Let us all, brothers, consider the Good Shepherd who to save His sheep bore the suffering of the Cross” (Admonitions, 6.1). 

The theological heart of Fratelli Tutti is poured out in a lengthy meditation on Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. The Lord’s teachinga parable which responds to the question “and who is my neighbor?”—beckons men and women throughout the world to answer his invitation to love.

Pope Francis enjoins us, saying,

Let us look to the example of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ parable summons us to rediscover our vocation as citizens of our respective nations and of the entire world, builders of a new social bond. This summons is ever new…

The parable addresses the real challenge of human suffering and invites the hearer to an examination of heart. The interior struggle, that is, the tension between the personal sacrifice that charity demands and the security which unconcern and indifference appear to offer, unfolds in the depths of every person.

The parable of the Good Samaritan begs every person of good will to examine that key aspect of human life that every Christian knows is true: in giving we receive. The pouring forth of selfless love, the imitation of Christ the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep, alone offers the restless heart peace. Pope Francis puts it this way,

The parable clearly does not indulge in abstract moralizing, nor is its message merely social and ethical. It speaks to us of an essential and often forgotten aspect of our common humanity: we were created for a fulfilment that can only be found in love. 

Whether the suffering we encounter is racial injustice, sickness, poverty or exhausted politics, only love born of compassion and sacrifice will bring aid to our afflicted sisters and brothers.

The parable provides a poignant examination of our interior selves through its characters and their responses to injustice, even evil. There are robbers. Are we robbers? How should robbers be dealt with? Are we merely devout passers-by? Are we the injured man? What inhibits us from being Good Samaritans?

In order to further the goods of fraternity and social friendship, Pope Francis instructs us: “All of us have a responsibility for the wounded.” It is, after all, in the stranger, the prisoner, the hungry and thirsty, and the sick, that we find ourselves meeting Christ (Mt. 25:35-36).

In the classical philosophical and theological tradition, to be a friend to another means to see another’s good as one’s own. St. Thomas Aquinas says of friendship, “a certain mutual love is requisite, since friendship is between friend and friend” (ST II-II, q. 23, a. 1). To be a Good Samaritan, to be willing to regard another as neighbor, seems to require something of the offering of the hand of friendship: to desire for another his or her true good.

We do not need to list here the challenges that such a project faces. What we need to embrace is the hope that such an undertaking is possible. And it is.

Far from being a utopian fantasy, sacrificial love is to be had all around us. The Good Shepherd himself pours into our worn and weary and wary hearts the ever-new wine of charity. This wine will fill us, warm us, and vivify us.

There is always hope to be had in the Gospel. Jesus will extend his invitation to self-renunciation and compassion again, and again, and again. Pope Francis encourages us, saying,

Each day offers us a new opportunity, a new possibility. We should not expect everything from those who govern us, for that would be childish. We have the space we need for co-responsibility in creating and putting into place new processes and changes.

When next we find ourselves on the road, whether today, tomorrow or soon after, let us find ourselves, that is, let us discover again the things truly worth spending our lives for, by loving our neighbor.

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