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Reflections on the New Encyclical

I love autumn. The colors, the flavors, the crisp air—everything about it makes me want to go outside for a brisk walk and then curl up in an armchair with a hot cup of coffee, a fleece blanket, and a good book. Some books are best enjoyed this way.

Fratelli Tutti is not one of them.

Fratelli Tutti is an encyclical to be read in a straight-backed chair with both feet planted firmly on the ground, so you can spring into action whenever the text summons you to step beyond yourself and encounter Christ in someone else—which happens just about every paragraph.

What is Fratelli Tutti? The title of Pope Francis’ latest encyclical is not a topic, but a statement of truth and an appeal to live this truth. The phrase “Fratelli Tutti,” or “Brothers and sisters all,” is who we are: siblings who have been reconciled with God in Christ. It is also a summons to become who we are by realizing Jesus’ prayer that we “may all be one,” just as Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:21). This is a sublime and beautiful prayer—and, remarkably, God is looking to us to answer it. In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis sheds light on the many places, faces, and situations where God is waiting for our answer, and reminds us that he waits with greatest longing in the very people we are least inclined to talk to, associate with, welcome, trust, or forgive.

Fratelli Tutti will challenge you. There is nothing easy about making a daily effort to “transcend ourselves through an encounter with others” (111) or to pursue reconciliation not by avoiding conflict, but “in conflict … dialogue, and open, honest and patient negotiation” (244). It takes discipline to assume an “alternative way of thinking” (127) about the world and our place in it, which is nothing short of Saint Paul’s plea to “put on the mind of Christ” (Phil 2:5). But if we choose to walk this path with God, he promises to “turn our life into a wonderful adventure” (8) of dying and rising with Jesus, one moment at a time, to a new and fuller way of living.

How can we begin this adventure? By reading Fratelli Tutti and letting it bother us. I invite you to ask the Holy Spirit to read this letter with you, and pay attention to where, when, and how the Spirit stirs your mind and heart as you read. What is your dream for unity—in the world, in your family, in yourself, and between you and God? Which of the Gospel challenges outlined in Fratelli Tutti make you uncomfortable or resistant? What faces and relationships come to mind as the Holy Father speaks of fraternity, reconciliation, conflict, forgiveness, and dialogue? Who walks into the room while you are reading, and how do you sense the Spirit inviting you to see him or her differently?

This is not a year to be wasted. As tragic and weird and frustrating and [add-your-own-adjective-here] as the year 2020 has been, it is first and foremost an “acceptable time” (2 Cor 6:2) and a new reality to claim for Christ. We must not renounce our Christian vocation by putting our feet up and biding our time until things return to “the way they were,” but rather use the unique circumstances of this year to forge a new culture of encounter, beginning with those closest to us. Fratelli Tutti can help us toward this goal.

Let us approach this letter as an urgent yet hope-filled examination of conscience on how we relate to others and how we can do better. Every step we take today under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, no matter how small, can prepare us for the day when we will finally be able to peel the masks from our faces (and from our hearts) and look at each other: God willing, with more honesty, authenticity, humanity, and love than ever before.

In the words of our Holy Father, “Let us dream … as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all” (8). And “may God inspire [this] dream in each one of us” (287).

by Sr. Amanda Marie Detry, FSP

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