Envisaging and Engendering an Open World

Columban Fr Warren Kinne offers some reflection on the third chapter of the Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti of the Holy Father Francis on fraternity and social friendship.

Fratelli Tutti Chapter 3 Pope Francis

This pandemic has certainly shown us a lot about ourselves. Our first tendency is to protect ourselves and our families. Sometimes our concern for this is all-consuming and we take little notice of the plight of others, especially those we cannot see and who live beyond our borders. But as has been well demonstrated, if we don’t also look after everyone, no one is really safe. We all depend on each other. Countries cannot only think of themselves. We cannot live forever in “a bubble” even when we extend this to some other country like New Zealand or perhaps Singapore. In the end, what is clear is that everyone needs to be vaccinated in an interconnected world if we are to be able to open up to one another and if the wheels of commerce and the intimacy of friendship are to flourish.

Of course, on the religious level, we know that we are all not just “associates” but brothers and sisters of a common “father”. Whatever our religious, or ethnic group, or nationality, we share a bond as all of us are creatures and inhabit a common home that has been given to us to share. This is the basis of a human duty of hospitality. Like Abraham at the Oak of Mamre, we never know when we might entertain angels.

This religious and somewhat intellectual insight needs to be made evident through what we call Christian love, but this is not easy to live. This love presumes justice, but a just world only makes real loving possible and still isn’t loving. Here we see a real compassion that ushers in a world where love excludes no one and is open to all. A world of real loving involves sharing and here we mean the sharing of life and the goods that make living viable, or in other words, the sharing of resources. With a pandemic, it might be vials of vaccine or protective clothing.

This Universal love also promotes persons. According to Pope Francis, it favours an investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or the less talented to find opportunities. But if a society is governed primarily by the criteria of market freedom and efficiency, there is no place for such persons. 1

The parable of Good Samaritan helps us to transcend narrow classifications that could see some people as only “associates” and not as other persons sharing the road of life. We will no longer see things too individualistically, for individualism does not make us freer, more equal, more fraternal. The catch-cry of the French Revolution promoted liberty, equality and fraternity, but these rights need to be balanced by the rights of others. Perhaps the Charlie Ebdo saga tells us that yes, we value free speech, but at the same time, we must respect the religious sensibilities of others and so certain aspects of what comes easily to our lips or the point of our pen.

The world and its resources are for all. There is no absolute right to ownership. When some lack basic necessities, they have a right to access these goods and services. This is a pillar of Catholic Social thought: the subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods. 2

At Mass the other day, someone came up to me and told me with some pride about their financial acumen and how they had just bought five apartments for speculation given the state of the stock market and the money market. I was left a bit speechless as to how to respond adequately and, on the spur of the moment, said something about “no wonder I can’t buy one”. Government intervention through taxation and other means might be the only way to save some from overly mollycoddling themselves for their future while we have the plight of others who lack basic necessities. We need to open not just our hearts but our personal and national coffers – to show true generosity of spirit.

An open-world, as envisaged by Pope Francis, is a gift of grace. We can strive for it with all our efforts, but the unexpected graced action will be needed to bring us out of ourselves to allow solidarity capable of transcending borders. A real and lasting peace is based on a global ethic of solidarity and service where no one is excluded.

[1] Fratelli Tutti, paragraph 109

[2] Fratelli Tutti, paragraph 123

Columban Fr Warren Kinne lives and works on the Gold Coast.

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