The word with which to open 2019 is the one launched by the Holy Father in his Urbi et Orbi discourse on Christmas day: fraternity. A word that indicates the truth that “is the basis of the Christian vision of humanity”. A vision that hinges on the harmony between unity and diversity, the very heart of fraternity. If this harmony exists, “our differences, then, are not a detriment or a danger; they are a source of richness. As when an artist is about to make a mosaic: it is better to have tiles of many colours available, rather than just a few!”. From this vision springs the image of the polyhedron, an image so dear to Pope Francis, which explains human complexity better than the flat and ideological image of the sphere. Because fraternity is not an abstract ideal; it is a concrete experience that we all know, thanks to that captivating and dramatic reality which is the family: “The experience of families teaches us this: as brothers and sisters, we are all different from each other. We do not always agree, but there is an unbreakable bond uniting us, and the love of our parents helps us to love one another”. The Pope speaks with characteristic realism, the realism of the Bible which, from the very beginning, presents stories of certainly not exemplary brothers, from Cain and Abel to Esau and Jacob, up to Joseph, sold by his brothers. But then there is Jesus, the Only Begotten Son who becomes the First Born and becomes brother to all mankind (“go and tell my brothers”, as he said after he had risen), inviting us to love one another as brothers and sisters, children of the one Father.
Modernity is the historical era that killed the father (all fathers, both upper and lower-case ‘f’), and it is not by chance that of the greatest ideas of the French Revolution, fraternité is precisely the one most neglected. Hope according to Peguy comes to mind: “Little Hope goes along between her two big sisters, Faith and Charity, and is not even noticed. Almost invisible, the little sister seems to be led by the hand by the two older ones, but with her child’s heart she sees what the others do not see. It is she, that little one, who pulls everything along”.
There is a need for a redemption of fraternity because in the last two centuries the West pressed the accelerator of freedom and equality; but without the fulcrum of fraternity, the result was that of an off-balance, schizophrenic world. In the 1900s we had a society, the communist one, configured entirely on equality but without freedom, which resulted in a leveling out, a homogenization with the mortification of differences in an inhumane regime based on bureaucracy, suspicion and brutal violence. On the other hand, a model of society was affirmed wherein freedom was pushed to the outermost limits, eventually accentuating inequalities and generating an individualism blind and deaf to others, which lives in limitless pleasure-seeking, breaking every bond and sense of community.
These ultimately corresponding opposites, egalitarianism and liberalism, are ideological visions of reality (‘spheres’ rather than polyhedrons) that arise from the loss of that concreteness that only fraternity could transmit to the two concepts of equality and freedom which, once separated from fraternity, seem to be madly creating instabilities that are still debated in the West today. Thus, clear and more urgent than ever is the admonition of the Holy Father, who reminds us that “without the fraternity that Jesus Christ has bestowed on us, our efforts for a more just world fall short, and even our best plans and projects risk being soulless and empty”.
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 23, 2020
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