We are deep into the month of December, which in this part of the world, is the darkest month of the year. The calendar year will quickly end, and it is no secret that this has been a very difficult and trying year for everyone in so many ways. Certainly, no one anticipated the scope of this COVID-19 pandemic, and no one knew how much it would disrupt our world, our society, our economy and our lives. In the midst of this pandemic, instances of racial injustice sparked ongoing protests and unrest all across the nation. Additionally, the contentious nature of the presidential election brought about a great deal of tension and anxiety to many. Moreover, violent crime has been on the rise these last few months. It has been a tough year to say the least.
As this year wanes, we are very aware of how much we need God, his grace, his forgiveness, his healing and his wisdom. We all need a little light. We need hope. In our longing for good news, we turn to God in prayer and seek consolation in the Sacred Scriptures. Very soon, as members of the Christian community, we will be meditating on the following passage:
“The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” (Luke 2:10-14)
The story of the angel’s announcement of the Savior’s birth to the lowly shepherds in the fields takes place at night. The setting is one of darkness, poverty, uncertainty and fear. In the midst of this darkness, the message of the angel is one of good news, encouragement and comfort for the shepherds, and the song of the angelic host resounding in the night inspires them to go in haste to seek the Light of the World. They find him lying in a manger in a stable in Bethlehem, just as the angel told them. During the Christmas season, we ponder this message of peace to people on whom God’s favor rests – all of his children – people of good will.
Pope Francis addresses his recent Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship, to “people of good will.” He wrote Fratelli Tutti as a message of hope with an emphasis on the importance of upholding and defending the human dignity of all people. Nevertheless, he does not hesitate to describe the darkness of our times. Chapter One of this eight-chapter encyclical bears the title, “Dark Clouds over a Closed World.” In this chapter, he describes the selfishness born of extremist nationalism, the uncaring attitude of a “throwaway” culture, the lack of recognition of human rights, the destructive nature of war and terrorism, the global disaster of the COVID-19 pandemic, the plight of migrants and the loss of interpersonal encounter and dialogue. Amidst these problems brought about by apathy, cynicism, prejudice and lack of meaningful communication, Pope Francis writes, “I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will.” (Fratelli Tutti, No. 6)
Despite the reality of the dark clouds he describes, Pope Francis notes that there is reason to hope. He sees evidence that God continues to sow seeds of goodness in human hearts. As an example of this, he points to the many people who put their lives on the line to respond to the pandemic – health workers, caretakers, storekeepers, transport workers and others who provide public safety and essential services. In times of great need, there are people willing to struggle and sacrifice for the common good.
Pope Francis believes that what our world needs to dispel the darkness is a form of love that transcends the barriers that keep people apart – a love that he calls “social friendship” (No. 99). Love is the creative force in the depths of our hearts that draws us away from our self-centeredness and towards the lives of other people. In hearts that are open to growth through building relationships with others, authentic love can take root. This kind of love moves us towards “universal communion” (No. 95). However, a movement of this sort requires great effort. We must consciously cultivate social friendship and fraternity through our willingness to enter into dialogue with others despite our differences and through being good Samaritans to those in need.
What Pope Francis calls for is a culture of encounter “capable of transcending our differences and divisions” (No. 215). In such a culture, people learn from each other regardless of differences and even disagreements. When we move beyond ourselves to engage people who are different from us, we find that their distinct gifts and perspectives can complement our own, and dialogue can enrich and illuminate everyone involved.
Pope Francis goes on to say that social friendship and universal communion call for “an acknowledgement of the worth of every human person, always and everywhere” (No. 106). It is essential that we recognize the dignity of all, and that we not see ourselves as isolated from those who do not have the same level of resources that we have. He emphasizes that we, the people of this world, must “think of ourselves more and more as a single family dwelling in a common home” (No. 17).
Pope Francis refers to solidarity as a moral virtue. He writes that in a time of uncertainty and a lack of consistency in our culture, we should appeal to the sense of solidarity “born of the consciousness that we are responsible for the fragility of others as we strive to build a common future. Solidarity finds concrete expression in service, which can take a variety of forms in an effort to care for others” (No. 115).
How can we become more and more “people of good will,” reaching beyond ourselves to our brothers and sisters in this world? How can we better uphold the dignity of all people and strive for solidarity and communion? Pope Francis writes, “For us the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (No. 277).
The Sacred Scriptures teach us that the child, whom the shepherds found lying in the manger, grew in wisdom and grace. It was he who healed the sick, fed the hungry, reached out to sinners and gave himself completely for the salvation of all. It was he who taught us to love one another. By living according to the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we can experience his transforming love and live in his light. As we enter into this Christmas Season, let us do so in a spirit of hope. Let us pledge to do all we can to cooperate with God’s grace as we strive to make this world a better place. A Blessed Christmas to all and peace to people of good will.
[“Fratelli Tutti” literally means “all brothers.” Pope Francis writes, “”FRATELLI TUTTI”. With these words, Saint Francis of Assisi addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavour of the Gospel.” (Fratelli Tutti, No. 1)]