Matthew 22:1-14, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The theme of fraternal love has been one of the most talked about topics since last Sunday, October 4, with the publication of Pope Francis’s encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (English: All brothers/sisters). This Sunday’s Gospel is about a wedding feast which is a time of loving union not only between two individuals but two families or clans. In any culture, the wedding is seen as a completion of a human bond that usually follows a long and arduous preparation. In Judaism, the wedding feast is even compared to the coming of the Messiah. In this same context, let us talk about three takeaways from the encyclical “Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship.”
First aspect of fraternal love is the universal human bond that goes beyond the barriers of geography and space, i e, all of creation. The encyclical was signed on the occasion of Pope Francis’s visit to the tomb of his namesake, St Francis of Assisi, the model of fraternal love. St Francis, who felt himself a brother of the sun, the sea and the wind, knew even more that “he is united to those who were of his own flesh” (FT 2). In the encyclical, Pope Francis states that the COVID-19 pandemic is one proof of the failure of the world to work together fraternally. “There was a fragmentation that made it more difficult to solve the problems that affect us all” (FT 7), he says. The model of fraternal love is the Good Samaritan. “Jesus tells the story of a man assaulted by thieves and lying injured on the wayside. Several persons passed him by, but failed to stop” (FT 63). Those who passed him by were not fraternal. These were men of influence but their treatment of their neighbor was not fraternal. “[Fraternal] love does not care if a brother or sister in need comes from one place or another. For “love shatters the chains that keep us isolated and separate; in their place, it builds bridges. Love enables us to create one great family, where all of us can feel at home… Love exudes compassion and dignity” (FT 62). Pope Francis urges us to “be Good Samaritans who bear the pain of other people’s troubles rather than fomenting greater hatred and resentment” (FT 77). He gives this warning that “In today’s world, the sense of belonging to a single human family is fading, and the dream of working together for justice and peace seems an outdated utopia. What reigns instead is a cool, comfortable and globalized indifference” (FT 30).
Second aspect of fraternal love is its intention or what it promotes, i e, universal love promotes the welfare of underprivileged persons. Pope Francis says: “Social friendship and universal fraternity necessarily call for an acknowledgement of the worth of every human person, always and everywhere” (FT 106). Fraternal love promotes the human dignity of the elderly and disabled people, the poor and those who do not receive a fine education, those who do not grow up well nourished, and those who have no access to adequate health care. “If a society is governed primarily by the criteria of market freedom and efficiency, there is no place for such persons, and fraternity will remain just another vague ideal” (FT 109). Let us go back to the Gospel story about the royal wedding feast. There are two things that go wrong there. First, the original guests refuse to come because of misplaced priorities. Second, not only do they turn down the invitation, they maltreat the poor messengers. They were not only indifferent or lacking in fraternal love, their outlook towards others was individualistic, treating others as competitors that ought to be eliminated. Pope Francis likens this to a virus: “Radical individualism is a virus that is extremely difficult to eliminate, for it is clever. It makes us believe that everything consists in giving free rein to our own ambitions” (FT 105). “Individualism does not make us more free, more equal, more fraternal. The mere sum of individual interests is not capable of generating a better world for the whole human family. Nor can it save us from the many ills that are now increasingly globalized” (FT 105). Pope Francis reiterates that the death penalty is “inadmissible” and that “there can be no stepping back from this position” (FT 263). He adds that the Catholic Church is committed to the worldwide abolition of death penalty; he explains that “not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this. The firm rejection of the death penalty shows to what extent it is possible to recognize the inalienable dignity of every human being and to accept that he or she has a place in this universe” (FT 269).
Finally, if the previous encyclical, Laudato Si’, was Pope Francis’s plea to listen to the cry of sister earth, then the third encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, is the papal plea to listen to the cry of our fellow human beings. The common denominator between these two is the fraternal relationship that is founded on love. This brings us to the third aspect of fraternal love, i e, its cultivation through contemplation. During his September 16, 2020 General Audience, Pope Francis spoke about how we can cultivate this fraternal love through contemplation. “When we contemplate,” the Pope says, “we discover in others and in nature something much greater than their usefulness. Here is the heart of the issue: contemplating is going beyond the usefulness of something. Contemplating the beautiful does not mean exploiting it… It is free. We discover the intrinsic value of things given to them by God. As many spiritual masters have taught us, heaven, earth, sea, and every creature have this iconic capacity, or this mystical capacity to bring us back to the Creator and to communion with creation. For example, St. Ignatius of Loyola, at the end of his Spiritual Exercises, invites us to carry out ‘Contemplation to come to love’, that is, to consider how God looks at His creatures and to rejoice with them; to discover God’s presence in His creatures and, with freedom and grace, to love and care for them.”
Pope Francis ties Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti together through the “Contemplation to attain love.” He says, “Those who contemplate in this way experience wonder not only at what they see, but also because they feel they are an integral part of this beauty; and they also feel called to guard it and to protect it. And there is one thing we must not forget: those who cannot contemplate nature and creation, cannot contemplate people in their true wealth. And those who live to exploit nature end up exploiting people and treating them like slaves. This is a universal law. If you cannot contemplate nature, it will be very difficult for you to contemplate people, the beauty of people, your brother, your sister. All of us.”
To end, there is another detail in our Gospel about the royal wedding feast which points to a concrete way to cultivate fraternal love. We should wear fraternal love like a garment always and everywhere. Love ought to be expressed in deeds than in words. There is one person among the guests who has no wedding garment and that person is banished from everyone’s sight. One is not banished by the criteria of one’s own religious identity but by one’s failure to love. Pope Francis tells us that: the Church esteems the ways in which God works in other religions, and “rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for their manner of life and conduct, their precepts and doctrines which… often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women”
*painting by Jordaens Porhorce