Monday, January 6, 2014

We are our brother's keeper: message for the World Day of Peace

In his message for the 47th World Day of Peace, Pope Francis calls every man and woman to the universal vocation of fraternity.  

In Fraternity as the foundation of peace and as the pathway to peace, the pope speaks about the harmful effects of poverty, war, corruption, organized crime and environmental degradation on our ability to live peacefully with one another.  While the obstacles to world peace are communal in nature and difficult to overcome, the message is personal and social, realistic and hopeful.

The biblical foundations of fraternity

Francis refers to the biblical story of two brothers, Cain and Abel, to explain the concept of fraternity. In the story, Cain murders Abel, and God holds Cain accountable for his failure to care for and protect his brother.  The pope writes that the story of Cain and Abel illustrates our “profound identity and vocation” to live as brothers and sisters, even as it demonstrates our “tragic capacity to betray that calling.” Despite this capacity to ignore our identity and to deny our vocation, we have an “irrepressible longing for fraternity” which forms us into communities and peoples, and enables us to overcome differences and embrace one another.

Francis explains that the fraternal imperative to live in peace with one another resides in the transcendent fatherhood of God and in the cross of Christ.  God’s “extraordinarily concrete and personal love” for every man and woman is a powerful transformative force that leads to conversion and makes fraternity possible. 

Fraternity is difficult
Still, fraternity as the pathway to peace is difficult. As Francis realistically notes, fraternity requires “a perennial exercise of empathy, of listening to the hopes and sufferings of others, even those furthest away from me, and walking the demanding path of that love which knows how to give and spend itself freely for the good of all our brothers and sisters.”

While the basic idea of fraternity (do good to everyone) is pretty simple, I consider its implementation rather challenging. In a similar way as God called to Cain, “Where is your brother?”, fraternity calls us to take responsibility for the well being of others whether we know them, or not; like them, or not; agree with them, or not.  Fraternity makes us answerable for our brothers and sisters around the world.  To Cain’s retort to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”,  our answer must be “yes” if we are serious about building peace.

Our vocation to live in harmony makes demands of us that we would perhaps prefer to ignore. It requires that we step out of our comfortable lives, reassess our attitudes, and then actually do something to help overcome obstacles to peace.  We may find it difficult to relate to the realities that threaten the lives of so many people around the world, or we may become indifferent to the plight of those whom we do not know. Alternatively, if we want to help, the sheer magnitude of the problems may overwhelm us with feelings of helplessness and prevent us from taking action that will help build those pathways to peace.

Pope Francis’s message for the 47th World Day of Peace reminds us that without a “lively awareness of relatedness” (and I believe relatedness implies action), peace will remain an unattainable dream. We begin to build pathways to peace, in our hearts, in our homes and in the world, when we act upon our vocation to cherish one another as brothers and sisters of the same human family.

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