By Christopher Hunt
Building the common good through fraternity and social friendships
A common project. A few paragraphs into Fratelli Tutti’s (FT) chapter 5 A Better Kind of Politics Pope Francis speaks of advancing toward a common project (FT 157-158). He goes on to speak of local, national and international politics, and inside of this common project, there are many other projects that must be formed and executed. As Archbishop Christophe Pierre explained at the previous webinar, “We will not open up this document to find readymade solutions,” we realize that there are personal and political actions that must be taken. This is a multigenerational project, and we need to get started on it now.
Politics are devolving throughout the entire world. Populism and nationalism are subverting any sign of a virtuous patriotism with demagoguery and ideology. Socialism is ruining countries that were growing into good economies a short time ago. Religious dictatorships are terrorizing their peoples. There is forming now intense polarization, and the different camps are seeing their political opponents as enemies that are evil and must be destroyed. Social media is stoking this fire with twisted AI and biased algorithms, causing people to have circular echo-chambers helping them to sail rapidly to extremes. News has become ultra-partisan, and fake news seems to be everywhere. The pandemic is causing greater unemployment which, coupled with lockdowns and social distancing norms is forcing us into widespread isolation, and making it easier than ever to delve deeply into ideology and immerse ourselves deeper into the online echo-chambers. We are more connected than ever through technology, but that does not necessarily translate into deep social connections nor meaningful solidarity; and many times said online interactions take less “encounter”, using the words of Pope Francis. These are all forces that are fighting against our common project.
Did you get the Fratelli Tutti memo? Pope Francis calls to all people of good will “...I have written [Fratelli Tutti] from the Christian convictions that inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will” (FT 6). The World Synod of Bishops tell Catholics that “ action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church's mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation...The members of the Church, as members of society, have the same right and duty to promote the common good as do other citizens. Christians ought to fulfill their temporal obligations with fidelity and competence. They should act as a leaven in the world, in their family, professional, social, cultural and political life. They must accept their responsibilities in this entire area under the influence of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. In this way they testify to the power of the Holy Spirit through their action in the service of people in those things which are decisive for the existence and the future of humanity. While in such activities they generally act on their own initiative without involving the responsibility of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, in a sense they do involve the responsibility of the Church whose members they are” (Justice in the World- World Synod of Bishops 6, 38).
Similarly, we are taught by the Canadian bishops that in this endeavor, “ just as yeast leavens bread from within, so the laity are called to be a leaven in the world. This is not accomplished primarily by expounding on particular doctrines or speaking about Christian values. Rather, the Christian himself or herself is the leaven. Lay people live in families and in communities. They work or study and are involved in the social and political life of their communities at the local, national, and international levels. They become a leaven through the unique way they approach work and study, live in society, and participate in politics” (Co-responsibility of Lay Faithful in Church & World – CCCB- 8, 9). Catholics are being called by their shepherds to enter into this in a specifically Christian way. It is our responsibility to do so.
Informing ourselves responsibly on the matters stated above is a foundational act of charity. We cannot make informed decisions, nor can we pass on, educate, those whom we owe education; primarily our children. As the good Archbishop Christophe Pierre points out, though, we need information that is infused with wisdom. “True wisdom demands an encounter with reality. Today, however, everything can be created, disguised and altered” (FT 47). Prayer and Scripture will help us to have wisdom, that goes without saying. Similarly, another saying goes, “work as if it depends on you, pray as if it depends on God!”, we must tag “study” along with “work”, and have the “it” being wisdom.
How do we lead a life of service to our brothers and sisters, and help to form a politic that helps ALL people to have a better life? We are called to embrace the Good Samaritan attitude in our individual encounters, and also to enhance the political infrastructure that expands the common good in society. As Archbishop Pierre explained, this is not to stop merely at the personal level, but must extend into policies of state... political, economic and social (FT 164-165). We must reject those “leftist ideologies or social doctrines linked to individualistic ways of acting and ineffective procedures [which] affect only a few, while the majority of those left behind remain dependent on the goodwill of others” (FT 165). We also cannot rely on neoliberalism which “simply reproduces itself by resorting to the magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ – without using the name – as the only solution to societal problems... the alleged ‘spillover’ does not resolve the inequality that gives rise to new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society” (FT 168). St. Paul VI explained clearly, “let it be said once again that economics is supposed to be in the service of man” (Populorum Progressio, 26).
We are acting as the Good Samaritan when we are living a life of charity and love in our personal lives. How we treat our spouse, our children, friends, co-workers and fellows we deal with on a day-to-day basis, in our choices in how we purchase goods, in the ways we choose to inform ourselves, in our acts of charity and alms-giving, education of our children, in our life of prayer and sacrifice; in all acts of spiritual and corporal works of mercy, in making ourselves available to others despite our busy schedules, in seeing the presence of God when encountering our brothers and sisters in greater need or those who hold opposed worldviews.
As Archbishop Pierre asked us at the webinar, “can we truly see each other as brothers and sisters despite our (religious, economic, social, political) differences?” It is a serious invitation to challenge ourselves and go beyond our groupthink barriers.