Rorate Caeli

For the record - Francis: Fraternity is fine, if there is a Transcendent Father

Pax et Bonum
One of the main problems of the extensive and incessant release of papal words in the past few decades, and even more so in the past year, has been that very relevant statements are often overlooked.

It was thanks to the breathtakingly beautiful sermon of Fr. Eric Iborra (Parochial Vicar of Saint Eugene, the most traditional-friendly Parish in Paris, in the memorial Mass for Louis XVI) that it was possible for us to see the deep significance of this passage of Pope Francis' Message for January 1st ("World Peace Day").

Globalization, as Benedict XVI pointed out, makes us neighbours, but does not make us brothers. The many situations of inequality, poverty and injustice, are signs not only of a profound lack of fraternity, but also of the absence of a culture of solidarity. New ideologies, characterized by rampant individualism, egocentrism and materialistic consumerism, weaken social bonds, fuelling that “throw away” mentality which leads to contempt for, and the abandonment of, the weakest and those considered “useless”. In this way human coexistence increasingly tends to resemble a mere do ut des which is both pragmatic and selfish.

At the same time, it appears clear that contemporary ethical systems remain incapable of producing authentic bonds of fraternity, since a fraternity devoid of reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation is unable to endure. True brotherhood among people presupposes and demands a transcendent Fatherhood. Based on the recognition of this fatherhood, human fraternity is consolidated: each person becomes a “neighbour” who cares for others.

To understand more fully this human vocation to fraternity, to recognize more clearly the obstacles standing in the way of its realization and to identify ways of overcoming them, it is of primary importance to let oneself be led by knowledge of God’s plan, which is presented in an eminent way in sacred Scripture.

According to the biblical account of creation, all people are descended from common parents, Adam and Eve, the couple created by God in his image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26), to whom Cain and Abel were born. In the story of this first family, we see the origins of society and the evolution of relations between individuals and peoples.

Abel is a shepherd, Cain is a farmer. Their profound identity and their vocation is to be brothers, albeit in the diversity of their activity and culture, their way of relating to God and to creation. Cain’s murder of Abel bears tragic witness to his radical rejection of their vocation to be brothers. Their story (cf. Gen 4:1-16) brings out the difficult task to which all men and women are called, to live as one, each taking care of the other. Cain, incapable of accepting God’s preference for Abel who had offered him the best of his flock – “The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering; but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Gen 4:4-5) – killed Abel out of jealousy. In this way, he refused to regard Abel as a brother, to relate to him rightly, to live in the presence of God by assuming his responsibility to care for and to protect others. By asking him “Where is your brother?”, God holds Cain accountable for what he has done. He answers: “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9). Then, the Book of Genesis tells us, “Cain went away from the presence of the Lord” (4:16).

We need to ask ourselves what were the real reasons which led Cain to disregard the bond of fraternity and, at the same time, the bond of reciprocity and fellowship which joined him to his brother Abel. God himself condemns and reproves Cain’s collusion with evil: “sin is crouching at your door” (Gen 4:7). But Cain refuses to turn against evil and decides instead to raise his “hand against his brother Abel” (Gen 4:8), thus scorning God’s plan. In this way, he thwarts his primordial calling to be a child of God and to live in fraternity.

The story of Cain and Abel teaches that we have an inherent calling to fraternity, but also the tragic capacity to betray that calling. This is witnessed by our daily acts of selfishness, which are at the root of so many wars and so much injustice: many men and women die at the hands of their brothers and sisters who are incapable of seeing themselves as such, that is, as beings made for reciprocity, for communion and self-giving.
The question naturally arises: Can the men and women of this world ever fully respond to the longing for fraternity placed within them by God the Father? Will they ever manage by their power alone to overcome indifference, egoism and hatred, and to accept the legitimate differences typical of brothers and sisters?

By paraphrasing his words, we can summarize the answer given by the Lord Jesus: “For you have only one Father, who is God, and you are all brothers and sisters” (cf. Mt 23:8-9). The basis of fraternity is found in God’s fatherhood.

In a particular way, human fraternity is regenerated in and by Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection. The Cross is the definitive foundational locus of that fraternity which human beings are not capable of generating themselves. Jesus Christ, who assumed human nature in order to redeem it, loving the Father unto death on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:8), has through his resurrection made of us a new humanity, in full communion with the will of God, with his plan, which includes the full realization of our vocation to fraternity.

From the beginning, Jesus takes up the plan of the Father, acknowledging its primacy over all else. But Christ, with his abandonment to death for love of the Father, becomes the definitive and new principle of us all; we are called to regard ourselves in him as brothers and sisters, inasmuch as we are children of the same Father.