Fratelli Tutti: 1943 Revisited and “Who Is My Neighbor?”

In Pope Frances’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti (Chapter 3 ”Envisioning and Engendering an Open World, paragraph 94) we read:

Love then is more than just a series of benevolent actions. Those actions have their source in a union increasingly directed towards others. Considering them of value, worthy, leading and beautiful apart from their physical or moral appearances. Our love for others for who they are, moves us to seek the best for their lives.

Fratelli Tutti came out in 2020. This was amid Covid and a contentious U.S. election. As you read Pope Francis’ document, you have a sense that some of his material was written with an eye of what was played out in America at the time.

You may like him. You may not. Regardless, Pope Francis’ words seem profound to some and provocative to others. They elicit emotional responses. There are Trump people. There are Biden people. Similarly, there are Francis people and non-Francis people. Opinions expressed about The Holy Father can be as passionate as political candidates.

That’s troubling. Over the last six months, I have been reading expressed opinions in Catholic-land articles. People are saying what they think about Pope Francis. Sometimes it is not kind. I am also troubled about opinions expressed by Catholics about other Catholics. Topics include the liturgy, families in general, number of children families have, the way parents are educating their children, thoughts about bishops, priests, and pastors.

I am reading a tremendous book called The Year of our Lord, 1943. Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis. In 1943 it was obvious that the allies were going to win the war on both sides of the world. In 1943, several thoughtful minds were concerned about how America was going to win the peace after the war. This included John Foster Dulles (Chief Foreign Policy Adviser to presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey) and Reinhold Niebuhr (Author of the “Serenity Prayer“). The conversation also included authors of Christianity and Crisis, the magazine founded in 1941 by Reinhold Niebuhr. Other thoughts were expressed by Neibuhr’s colleagues at Union Seminary. They published a series of articles under the title, “Six Pillars of Peace.” These men were concerned about systemic cracks in the social fabric of America. Unless addressed, these cracks would undermine our country’s values once the war was over.

(Sound familiar?)

A simultaneous conversation was being held by men and women concerned about the moral fabric of America. This included Jacques Maritain, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, C.S. Lewis, and Simone Weil. The Year of our Lord, 1943. Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis is about those conversations.

The conversations were not always friendly. Often they were quite contentious. Why? The issues were serious. The stakes were high. People knew the recent history of Germany and Japan. Facts about Nazism, concentration camps and the Nanjing Massacre were being discovered. These were life and death issues.

So why did the men and women stick it out amid bitter disagreements? A great quote comes from T.S. Eliot:

“What is valuable is the formulation of differences - within a certain identity (with which we all could agree). The identity may be very difficult, if not impossible, to wholly formulate. What is valuable is the association with people who may hold very different views from one’s own. These are the people worth disagreeing with.

I see articles about “a” demographic, gender, lifestyle, nationality, or socio-economic subgroups. Writers then pose a position on an issue that involves one of those groups. Francis sees this too. The Pope points to the troubling practice of using this to exploit these groups of people. This is often done either for economic gain or political power. (See paragraphs 77, 83, 102, and 106).

This might be the genius of Paragraph 94 above.

  1. Francis is saying that there are topics which we all agree are important.
  2. Your opinion on a particular topic will certainly be different than others.
  3. Any discussion about these topics is most likely going to be quite passionate.

Here’s what I have been considering. Who are the people worthy of having that conversation? Who are the people “worth disagreeing with?” Like T.S. Eliot, more and more I am choosing people with whom I discuss any issue. I do this carefully and intentionally.

And I never do it on Twitter.

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