Stepping Beyond – From mere neighbours to brothers and sisters
Begin by paying attention to your breathing, without changing the rhythm . . . Notice your breathing in . . . and your breathing out . . . the rhythm . . . the depth . . . the feel of the air entering and leaving your mouth or nose . . . take three deeper breaths . . .
Prepare yourself now to hear our reading from the Prophet Isaiah...
Isaiah 11:1-9 NRSV
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
From mere neighbours to brothers and sisters
In these first days of Advent, the liturgy reminds us of the promises regarding the Messiah and his time. It will be a time that brings together all peoples of the earth around the same table, where even the animals that are usually hostile can live in harmony. After listening to Isaiah’s account of the Peaceful Kingdom we will consider in this first of our reflections on Fratelli Tutti how we might live in this same harmony as brothers and sisters.
In the words of Benedict XVI we are told ‘as society becomes ever more globalised, it makes us neighbours but does not make us brothers and sisters?'. These wise words from his encyclical on love and truth still ring very true, and this paradox is what moved Pope Francis to write his own encyclical on universal brotherhood and sisterhood.
Inspired once more by the Saint of Assisi, Pope Francis invites us to a life ‘marked by the flavour of the Gospel … in his simple and direct way, Saint Francis expressed the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives.’ (FT 1).
Unfortunately, in our world this ideal of belonging to a single human family is fading. On the contrary, while equality is enshrined in solemn documents that claim to fashion our relationships, in practice we are encouraged to stress our differences rather than what we share. For our politicians the best way to gain power lies not in proposing a project of wide vision and fraternity but in cynically inviting us to a life of isolation, behind high walls that keep others away, ‘thinking that we are all-powerful, while failing to realize that we are all in the same boat.’ (FT 30).
However, as our reading for today tells us we are invited to create a world where “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. They will not hurt or destroy all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord. (Isaiah 11: 6,8)
‘Isolation and withdrawal into one’s own interests are never the way to restore hope and bring about renewal. Isolation - no; closeness - yes. Culture clash - no; culture of encounter - yes’. (FT 30).
Parla con Dio
As you listened to the peaceful kingdom scripture, was there a phrase, a particular animal pairing that stayed with you? Stay with this image and talk to God about what it means to you and your ideas about peace…
What arises in you when you compare our current human family and the peaceful kingdom? A longing for more? A sadness for how things are? Or perhaps a sense of hope or joy at the commonality you find around you? Sit with the Lord now, in whatever you are feeling about this…
You might like to spend these final moments talking to God as one friend speaks to another about your hope for human harmony. Notice if God stirs within you a possible action or response to help move this hope into a reality…
An Ecumenical Christian Prayer
O God, Trinity of love,
from the profound communion of your divine life,
pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love.
Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus,
in his family of Nazareth,
and in the early Christian community.
Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel,
discovering Christ in each human being,
recognizing him crucified
in the sufferings of the abandoned
and forgotten of our world,
and risen in each brother or sister
who makes a new start.
Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,
reflected in all the peoples of the earth,
so that we may discover anew
that all are important and all are necessary,
different faces of the one humanity
that God so loves. Amen.
Given in Assisi, at the tomb of Saint Francis, on 3 October, Vigil of the Feast of the Saint, in the year 2020.