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Fratelli Tutti. Weeds, Wheat and Fruitful Dialogue

Chapter 7 of Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti is entitled “Renewal and Encounter.” In paragraph #228 Saint Francis has this line:

“We should never confine to others to what they may have said or done. We must value them for the promise that they embody. This is a promise that always brings with it a spark of new hope.

Frances is quoting from a talk that he gave on January 1, 2020. This was his “Message for the 2020 World Day of Peace.“ The Holy Father presents an important principle in fruitful conversation. It is the inseparable interconnection of justice, truth, and peace.

So often, nations, people, and groups are judged by people who have been hurt. The acknowledgment of these injustices cannot be denied. Yet, one commentator has said, “You never judge a country by the worst chapter of his history. You never judge a person by their greatest sin.

Today it is popular to point out aspects of US history that are less than admirable. Some represent dark chapters in our history. Here’s the problem. People paint United States history with a broad brush. They claim that America is a country steeped in the worst of vices. Any virtues, any good that the people of America have done over the centuries is discounted. Dark chapters of American history are seen as proof of the alleged depravity of the nation.

Francis tries to strike a balance in paragraph 227: “Truth and fact are inseparable companions of justice and mercy. Together, they are essential to building peace. Each moreover prevents the other from being altered.”

It is a delicate balance. It requires a sense of humility to be able to admit that the other side possesses virtues as well as vices. We read in Matthew 13: 24-30:

“Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sewed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted, the weeds also appeared. 

The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. ‘The servants asked him, ‘do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered. ‘While you are pulling the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them. Let them both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: first, collect the weeds and try them in bundles to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”

People are complex. Jesus acknowledges that each person’s heart contains weeds and wheat. This also acknowledges that people can be redeemed. Vices can be addressed, cured, and healed. Virtue can be increased. The challenge is to acknowledge this dichotomy in people, societies, neighborhoods, and individuals. Any hope of fruitful conversations and reconciliation amongst individuals and within society depends on this dichotomy.

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