Jan. 1 is the World Day of Peace, and each year the pope releases a (relatively) short document on a particular peace-related theme. This coming year’s message came out last Thursday.
For 2014, Pope Francis focuses on the idea of one human family in a message called “Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace.”
He reflects on how commitment to the intimate, familial relationship that connects all people is essential for peace to grow.
Fraternity is an essential human quality, for we are relational beings. Without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace.
Our sister and brotherhood comes from the teachings of Jesus, who tells his followers, “For you have only one Father, who is God, and you are all brothers and sisters” (cf. Mt 23:8-9).
Pope Francis writes, “The basis of fraternity is found in God’s fatherhood. We are not speaking of a generic fatherhood, indistinct and historically ineffectual, but rather of the specific and extraordinarily concrete personal love of God for each man and woman (cf. Mt 6:25-30).”
This is a radical tenet of Christianity. While we build barriers between us, separating our family, our community, our religion, our country from others, the belief that humanity shares one father makes us all a literal family.
If we truly believe this, then it has profound implications for how we live as individuals and as communities. Pope Francis writes:
“In Christ, the other is welcomed and loved as a son or daughter of God, as a brother or sister, not as a stranger, much less as a rival or even an enemy. In God’s family, where all are sons and daughters of the same Father, and, because they are grafted to Christ, sons and daughters in the Son, there are no ‘disposable lives.'”
We seem to value some lives less than others in our society. It’s tempting to ignore the marginalization of those who are poor, the unborn, immigrants and the homeless, for example, because solutions are difficult. But what if a biological relative was poor or homeless? What kind of urgent care would we show then? This type of self-giving love, reaching out to all, is what Christian faith demands of us.
Pope Francis describes the role that nations and governments have to work for solidarity, social justice, and true charity, resisting war in favor of “dialogue, pardon and reconciliation, in order to rebuild justice, trust, and hope around you!”
But he also calls individual Christians to practice simple living, a form of fraternity “that must be at the basis of all others.”
He writes, “Finally, there is yet another form of promoting fraternity[…]It is the detachment of those who choose to live a sober and essential lifestyle, of those who, by sharing their own wealth, thus manage to experience fraternal communion with others. This is fundamental for following Jesus Christ and being truly Christian.”
This Advent and Christmas seasons, we have the chance to renew our commitment to our human family. Here are some practical ways to invest in our fraternal relationship with our neighbors, “our most precious good”:
• Instead of exchanging gifts with someone this Christmas, agree to donate the funds instead to an organization helping people to lift themselves out of poverty. Consider supporting Catholic Relief Services’ work in the Philippines. Learn more at www.crs.org.
• Spend some time learning about the challenges so many of our sisters and brothers face. Get a couple of people together and stream the documentary “A Place at the Table” on Netflix, which explores the crisis of hunger in the U.S. Discuss it afterward.
• Find an agency near you that (1) depends on volunteers to help it run, and (2) provides you with the opportunity to get to know people who are marginalized. Soup kitchens and nursing home activities departments are two good places to start.
• Lobby your elected leaders to fight hunger by participating in Catholic advocacy efforts online. Google “Catholics Confront Global Poverty,” which makes advocacy easy.
• Remember the example of another Francis, St. Francis of Assisi, by praying the prayer named for him. A friend of mine once wondered how your life would be different if you prayed this every day for a whole month. Why not try it?
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
There are over a billion Catholics on Earth. Imagine how the world might change if we all just did something small to respond to Pope Francis’ message. There’s no reason not to try.
Mike Jordan Laskey is director of Life and Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden.