Introduction: Getting to know Fratelli Tutti this Advent
Welcome to this year’s Advent Retreat. This year has continued to offer many challenges for us in the shadow of the global pandemic. Thankfully, however, many of us are now moving to brighter days and are called to step out again into the fullness of life and step beyond our isolated worlds.
The theme of our retreat this year is exactly that - Stepping Beyond - and will be inspired by Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti, on fraternity and social friendship. You can read the encyclical through the link on our retreat page.
Other words for fraternity include fellowship; friendship and companionship, all words that are central to the Christian message especially at Christmas. The weeks of Advent are a call to a deeper reflection on the life of Jesus as he stepped beyond his world into ours as our companion and friend. Advent is a time to help us prepare to welcome Jesus our Saviour, God made man in Bethlehem.
In Fratelli Tutti Pope Francis draws inspiration from the example of St Francis of Assisi, whose life involved walking "alongside the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the discarded, the last" (FT, 2). These most vulnerable must be central and Pope Francis shares how Francis of Assisi demonstrated a "heart without boundaries, capable of going beyond the distances due to origin, nationality, colour or religion" (FT 3), open to foreigners.
Pope Francis is inviting us to do the same: let us step beyond our usual spaces, let us imagine a world where we are all brothers and sisters, friends even, and let us commit ourselves to bringing it closer.
Many of us will feel that we have tried this often enough, and the world is not getting any better. Very often it seems to be getting even worse, where the leaders we choose encourage us to think only of ourselves and of our country, of those who are exactly like us. We happily profess and praise equality as one of the biggest conquests of our times, but we must admit we are living in a world of increasing inequality, in all senses: the rich become richer and have better access to health services, while the poor are expected to remain resigned to their unfortunate lot. Migration is the magic card so cynically used to win votes, so that we just turn a blind eye to atrocities committed to enable us to retain our privileged status: we close not only our borders but also our hearts.
The changes needed are so big, so it seems reasonable to just give up and live within our small world as best we can. Yet Advent promises us a Saviour, who by stepping out of his world into ours, is someone who shows us that this is not so difficult to achieve. Not a wonder worker who will put the world to rights without demanding anything, Jesus is a true saviour who, in sharing our human condition, inspires and empowers us to work towards a better world.
Over these weeks of Advent, we will look at some of the themes and reflections found in Fratelli Tutti as a guide to living Advent more fully. In writing this encyclical Pope Francis is ‘hoping that in the face of present-day attempts to eliminate or ignore others, we may prove capable of responding with a new vision of fraternity and social friendship that will not remain at the level of words.’ (FT 6)
The many people we meet during these weeks of Advent, John the Baptist, Mary, the Shepherds and Wise Men, and so on, were invited to step beyond themselves into a new way and embrace a new vision. Their openness to recognise the signs and accept this invitation, allowed the kingdom of God to come among us through the person of Jesus. Let us pray this Advent that we too can see the signs and hear God's call for a greater fulfilment of the Word made Flesh in our own lives, in our world for all our brothers and sisters.
We start with some practical hints that might help you if you haven’t made a retreat like this before, or act as reminders if you have. You might like to consider these headings: how, where, when, and what. Firstly however we would like to draw your attention to the link to the encyclical Fratelli Tutti which is listed at the end of every session. Throughout our Advent Retreat we will make reference to this and quote from it. Please feel free to explore the document further, for more clarification or reflection.
One question to consider as a “how”, is how long you feel that you can devote to each session of the retreat. It’s good to decide this in advance and try to stick to it. Don’t give up too soon if the prayer seems a little dull or continue too long if it seems to be going well. The material presented in each of these sessions lasts about 20-25 minutes. Just choose a time that you can comfortably fit into your routine, having spent a few minutes preparing yourself and perhaps afterwards some more time noting in writing, in pictures or in whatever way you choose what the key points of invitation or resistance were for you. Whatever your responses and reactions, keep a brief note, as a pattern may emerge that proves a helpful guide when you look back.
Under the headings “where” and “when”, you might like to give some thought to what time of day is best for you to pray – morning, evening, or taking a break in the middle of the day? This might also suggest another question – where will you find it easiest to pray and reflect in this way?
Finally, under the heading of “what”, ask yourself what you are making this retreat for. What are the gifts and graces you would hope to receive from God during these times of prayer? Make sure that you start the prayer by asking God for these and try to be open to whatever else God wants to give you. Many times, we do not know what we really need!
When you have taken a while to consider these questions, you’ll be ready to begin this prayerful time of reflecting on ‘stepping beyond’. Before you start, take a moment to become aware of God’s welcoming gaze of love on you as you meet him in this way. Also become aware of all those others around the world who are praying this retreat alongside you and know that you are part of this worldwide community of prayer.