Happy 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time!
What did I spend my week doing? Well, I was reading Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti. The Italian title is the actual English title because “Fratelli” can mean brothers and sisters in Italian and Spanish, and not just “brothers.” At over 40,000 words, the encyclical really wants to tell us something.
Pope Francis sees a lot division, self-interest, and national interest being espoused today and it worries him. Ongoing division and the inability to respect and accept each other are the only fruits we get from these limited perspectives. Unless our minds and hearts are expansive and accepting, our world will remain in danger.
How would I put the Pope’s message? Perhaps the simplest way to say it would be: unless our love is broad enough to extend to everyone, it is not the love God asks of us. We hear in the Gospel the phrase from Jewish law that Jesus repeats: love your neighbor as yourself. And we know Jesus, in Luke’s Gospel, embarrassed his questioner when he asked “Who is my neighbor?” by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. But, instinctively, we have a very limited scope of who our neighbors are.
Look at the difference between neighborhood and neighbor. Neighborhood can carry all kinds of associations that might make us proud or ashamed, if we have great restaurants, for example, or if there is lots of crime. But neighbors are not an area or a thing. Neighbors are people—in all their peculiarities and limitations, in all their charm and nastiness. People can love their neighborhoods, but can they love their neighbors?
Dorothy Day was a great Catholic convert who achieved a prophetic voice during her lifetime. She began the Catholic Worker movement, an attempt to serve those people most deprived in society. She had an open-house philosophy: if people entered one of her Catholic Worker houses in need, she took them in, fed them, and gave them lodging. Some people thought she was crazy. But she said this: the love you have for God is only as big as the love you have for the person you like the least.
After all, if, as Pope Francis says, everyone human being has dignity because they were created by, and are loved by God, then how can I claim to love God if I do not love what God loves? We hear sections from the book of Exodus called the “holiness code”—where Moses says we must have the same compassion that God has. The alien, the poor, the defenseless, the widow, the orphan, the laborer, the one who owes you: you have to stretch yourself until your love covers everyone. Our list would include the immigrant, those on welfare, the unemployed, the homeless, the addicted.
Perhaps at no point in history is this a more difficult message than today; we will have to see how the Pope’s message is received because look how long we’ve had God’s message and we’ve not heard it or acted upon it. As long as I think I’m inherently more important than anyone else, I do not know how to value people. In fact, I do not know how to value myself as God values me.
No one is excluded from God’s love. This is a fundamental understanding of our faith. Our tasks as disciples of Jesus is to live in such a way that this becomes clear to everyone: by my words, my attitudes, my deeds, and, at times, my heroic gestures. When God’s command to love becomes our way of life, then maybe the hope God has for the world will become clearer to everyone.