For Chapter III of the encyclical letter “Fratelli Tutti,” the Pope discusses the value of human dignity and the need for solidarity, the essential and unique nature of love, the inalienable rights of every human being and the moral duty of every man toward his fellow human beings, especially to the disadvantaged.
In the opening paragraphs of the chapter, the Holy Father states that no one can experience the true beauty of life without relating to others, without having real faces to love. On the contrary, there is no life when we claim to be self-sufficient and live as islands: in these attitudes, death prevails. According to him, we were made for love, in each one of us “a law of ekstasis” seems to operate: “the lover ‘goes outside’ the self to find a fuller existence in another.” For this reason, “man always has to take up the challenge of moving beyond himself.”
On the unique value of love, the Holy Father explains that the spiritual stature of a person’s life is measured by love, which in the end remains “the criterion for the definitive decision about a human life’s worth or lack thereof.” This, according to him, does not mean the imposition of one’s own ideologies upon everyone else, or in a violent defense of the truth, or in impressive demonstrations of strength. All of us, as believers, need to recognize that love takes first place: Love must never be put at risk, and the greatest danger lies in failing to love.
He gives by way of example Saint Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of love in seeking to describe the love made possible by God’s grace as a movement outwards towards another, whereby we consider “the beloved as somehow united to ourselves.” Love, then, according to Pope Francis, is more than just a series of benevolent actions. Those actions have their source in a union increasingly directed towards others, considering them of value, worthy, pleasing and beautiful apart from their physical or moral appearances. Our love for others, for who they are, moves us to seek the best for their lives.
The encyclical letter states that love also impels us towards universal communion. No one can mature or find fulfilment by withdrawing from others. By its very nature, love calls for growth in openness and the ability to accept others as part of a continuing adventure that makes every periphery converge in a greater sense of mutual belonging. Love also means open societies that integrate everyone.
Social friendship and universal fraternity necessarily call for an acknowledgment of the worth of every human person, always and everywhere. If each individual is of such great worth, it must be stated clearly and firmly that “the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity.” This is a basic principle of social life that tends to be ignored in a variety of ways by those who sense that it does not fit into their worldview or serve their purposes, the Pope writes. On the inalienable rights of human beings, the Pope says that every human being has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally; this fundamental right cannot be denied by any country.
In the latter part of the encyclical letter, the Pope explains that the world exists for everyone, because all of us were born with the same dignity. Differences of color, religion, talent, place of birth or residence, and so many others, cannot be used to justify the privileges of some over the rights of all. As a community, we have an obligation to ensure that every person lives with dignity and has sufficient opportunities for his or her integral development.
As I wrote in my last column, the death of River Nasino has been an unmitigated tragedy. There is no justification whatsoever for the way the legal and justice system has treated the innocent infant and her mother Ina. That unjust treatment continued this week when the Court allowed the mother to visit the wake and funeral of her daughter for a total of only six hours (from the original three days it granted) and the detention officials implemented the furlough in a totally unacceptable and cruel way, among others providing Ina, an ordinary community organizer, with dozens of armed escorts, keeping her in handcuffs throughout the visit and funeral. Worse, according to reports, her escorts took the body of River and prevented Ina’s family from witnessing the burial. This overkill actually showed how bankrupt the argument of the authorities that they did not have the resources to allow breastfeeding in jail or to allow Ina a longer furlough.
I denounce in the strongest terms this cruelty! In this case, we see the opposite of what Pope Francis is challenging us to do in Fratelli Tutti – to respect human dignity, have empathy, and communicate solidarity for the least of our fellow human beings.
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