Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Fratelli Tutti

Yesterday Pope Francis published the third encyclical (i.e., a papal letter) of his pontificate, “Fratelli Tutti,” on the theme of “fraternity and social friendship.” He explains that, though he wrote it “from the Christian convictions that inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will.” At a time when COVID, racial injustice, economic uncertainty, and growing political tribalism have strained our social ties, the letter could not be more timely. Several insights are of direct relevance to our work in legal education, including how we build and steward a concept of meaningful community:

Dialogue is difficult but essential: Pope Francis writes that dialogue “calls for perseverance; it entails moments of silence and suffering, yet it can patiently embrace the broader experience of individuals and peoples. . . . [when our conversations] revolve only around the latest data; they become merely horizontal and cumulative. We fail to keep our attention focused, to penetrate to the heart of matters, and to recognize what is essential to give meaning to our lives. Freedom thus becomes an illusion that we are peddled, easily confused with the ability to navigate the internet. The process of building fraternity, be it local or universal, can only be undertaken by spirits that are free and open to authentic encounters.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us to “shoulder the inevitable responsibilities of life as it is.” Faced with “so much pain and suffering, our only course is to imitate the Good Samaritan,” as to do otherwise “would make us either one of the robbers or one of those who walked by without showing compassion for the sufferings of the man on the roadside.” We must remember that “a community can be rebuilt by men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others, who reject the creation of a society of exclusion, and act instead as neighbours, lifting up and rehabilitating the fallen for the sake of the common good.”

We are all responsible for keeping real people at the center of our work: “Solidarity finds concrete expression in service, which can take a variety of forms in an effort to care for others. . . . In offering such service, individuals learn to ‘set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, before the concrete gaze of those who are most vulnerable . . . . Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness and even, in some cases, ‘suffers’ that closeness and tries to help them. Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people,’” [and] “the scandal of poverty cannot be addressed by promoting strategies of containment that only tranquilize the poor and render them tame and inoffensive.”

Our respect for the dignity of others must be unconditional: “At a time when various forms of fundamentalist intolerance are damaging relationships between individuals, groups and peoples, let us be committed to living and teaching the value of respect for others, a love capable of welcoming differences, and the priority of the dignity of every human being over his or her ideas, opinions, practices and even sins” despite the “forms of fanaticism, closedmindedness and social and cultural fragmentation [that] proliferate in present-day society.”

Do our ambitions distract us from the needs of others? Pope Francis puts it simply: “loving the most insignificant of human beings as a brother, as if there were no one else in the world but him, cannot be considered a waste of time.” We must realize “that what is important is not constantly achieving great results, since these are not always possible. . . . it is truly noble to place our hope in the hidden power of the seeds of goodness we sow, and thus to initiate processes whose fruits will be reaped by others. Good politics [and good legal education!] combines love with hope and with confidence in the reserves of goodness present in human hearts.”

Kindness, kindness, kindness: “Saint Paul describes kindness as a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). He uses the Greek word chrestótes, which describes an attitude that is gentle, pleasant and supportive, not rude or coarse. Individuals who possess this quality help make other people’s lives more bearable, especially by sharing the weight of their problems, needs and fears. This way of treating others can take different forms: an act of kindness, a concern not to offend by word or deed, a readiness to alleviate their burdens. It involves ‘speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement’ and not ‘words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn.’ . . . Kindness frees us from the cruelty that at times infects human relationships, from the anxiety that prevents us from thinking of others, from the frantic flurry of activity that forgets that others also have a right to be happy. . . . Kindness ought to be cultivated; it is no superficial bourgeois virtue. Precisely because it entails esteem and respect for others, once kindness becomes a culture within society it transforms lifestyles, relationships and the ways ideas are discussed and compared. Kindness facilitates the quest for consensus; it opens new paths where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges.”

As lawyers and legal educators, what simple steps might we take to integrate the Pope’s reminders with the work we have before us? This year has been shaped powerfully by disappointment and loss. How could we reframe the experience of this year with a renewed “openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity?”


Vischer, Rob | Permalink