In the Pope’s 1 message for the World Day of Peace, to 'all peoples living in 1972', there is a passage near the end addressed to ‘sons and daughters of the Catholic Church’. In it the Pope invites us to 'bring to humanity a message of hope through a fraternity which is truly lived and through an honest and persevering effort for greater, true justice'.
I want to consider for a moment this request of the Pope to his sons and daughters to offer the world a lived fraternity, in order to see how we can put it into practice and give humanity a message of hope. First of all, we can ask ourselves: is there among us Catholics a basis for creating a more heartfelt fraternity? And further: is today's world open to this? If we look at the Church and humanity, we'll see how both are subject to two contrasting tensions.
The Church today, too, as in every age, walks along a way of the cross since it has the same destiny as its Founder. A frenzy of new ideas seems to menace the roots of faith and morality, raising doubts about everyone and everything. An overall protest estranges some of the Church's best sons and daughters, impoverishing it by the loss of even those chosen and sent in its name to announce the Gospel. The hierarchy itself is at times put on trial by those who, because they want to humanize everything, disregard the value of the ecclesiastical magisterium. Humanity, in which the Church lives and which every tremor strongly affects it, is torn by division and by the unleashing of the in¬stincts against every form of order and every structure that binds everyone together.
Then there are the social imbalances, the continual outbreaks of war that keep men with bated breath for fear of a world conflict and all those moral evils of today that we know. In short: disorientation in every field. However, we can see parallel to this tragic but true picture, a vague but felt desire for fraternity, for unity that surmounts existing barriers and focuses at the world taken as a whole. It’s a unity that is not just an aspiration but which, in the political field for example, is already a realization in different forms, all inspired legiti¬mately or not, by the testament of Jesus.
At the same time, there is an increase in the number of nations which hope to resolve the most serious tensions in a peaceful way. In the social field, the air is vibrating with a sense of solidarity, felt by most adults and especially young people. And along with so much bad news, there is the recent surprising phenomenon of great numbers of young people rebelling in the name of Christ against the slavery of sex and drugs. The Church, the Pentecost of the Council, continues to raise its authoritative voice above the world's whisper and gives it hope again. It’s a voice that calls on the divine to shine out so as to make this earth come alive and calls on faith to confirm itself again more beautifully and more truly and be freed from all attachments. It’s a voice which urges the moral order to re-establish itself to save humanity from its own ruin, which exhorts social structures to be Christianized, priests to be light in the world, bishops to co-operate with the Pope so that unity in diversity may shine forth all the more. And there is the clear, strong and sure voice of the Pope who, in order to instruct and 'to confirm his brothers', constantly announces the truth and puts forward again the Council's teaching, clarifying it for the people of God. Yet another attractive and present day characteristic of the Church stands out: varied charisms of the Spirit are echoing the desires of the Holy Spirit himself in the Second Vatican Council, calling on Christians to be Church in the deepest meaning of the word, that is, to be communion, lived fraternity.
From this comes a revival of movements of different origins animated by a marked sense of fraternity, in a world that is calling out for this, but often in the name of those who do not know how to really give it fraternity. At times, these groups themselves cannot nor know how to measure the power they possess precisely because they are Christians. Love is needed in order to form fraternity. And by now this is known to everyone in the world to a greater or lesser degree. The Muslims too, who do not believe in the Trinitarian God but only in the One God are, in different areas, responsive to a fraternity based on love.
But the love that a Christian brings – and here is the utterly deep mystery and hidden power that once made fruitful can work miracles – is different from any other love existing in the world, however noble and beautiful it may be. It is a love of divine origin, God's very own love shared with men and women, who being grafted in them, become sons and daughters of God. This is the cause and origin of an incomparable reality: human fraternity on a higher level, supernatural fraternity. It is in this fraternity that an event occurs which reminds us of Christmas: Christ is born among peoples as Emmanuel, God with us. In this fraternity Christians are united in the name of Christ who said: 'Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them' (Mt. 18:20).
It is a kind of fraternity that can – even where the Church finds itself obstructed in its ministry – make Christ present among peoples. It means spiritually present, but truly present. It is this fraternity that can bring Christ among the people, into homes, into schools, into hospitals, into factories, into every community or meeting. The Council and the Pope often emphasized that the community united like a family in the name of the Lord enjoys his presence. It is that fraternity that makes us Church, as Odo Casel points out : 'It is not that the one Church breaks up into a plurality of different communities, nor that the multiplicity of different communions united together forms the one Church. The Church is only one, wherever it appears, it is all entire and undivided, even where only two or three are gathered in the name of Christ.2 Now maybe we Christians do not always take account of this extraordinary possibility.
By acknowledging it this Christmas, God will give us the grace to welcome and to make more fruitful such a gift. In this fraternity, everywhere and with everyone, we need not anxiously think how we can sort out human problems on our own. If we so wish (and it is enough to be united in his name, that is in him and in the way he wishes), Christ is among us and with us, he, the Almighty! This gives us hope. Yes, it gives us great hope. In our Christian families, in our groups and in our movements for whatever Christian goal they were formed, and in the activities to which we dedicate our efforts, we must certainly revive a little of that unity. That unity, that fraternity that makes Christ present among us and makes us Church, openly declaring to one another this desire of ours, without any fear of false modesty. If Christmas reminds us to what extent God has loved us, and that is, to the point of making himself one of us, it is easy to understand how the logic of his love makes him always want to be a partner in our doings and desirous to live in a certain way among us, sharing our happiness, our grieves, responsibilities and weariness, above all giving us a hand as our Brother.
For him, it is not enough to represent himself to us every time we solemnly join together for the Eucharistic celebration, or to be particularly present in other ways such as in the hierarchy or in his word... he wishes to be with us always. And all he needs are two or three Christians... and they don't necessarily have to be saints! All that is needed are two or more men of good will who believe in him and especially in his love. If we do this, there will be an upsurge of living cells in the Church which, in time, will be able to animate the society that surrounds them until they penetrate the whole mass. This mass, then enlightened by the spirit of Christ, will be better able to fulfil God's plan for the world, and give a decisive thrust to the peaceful, irresistible social revolution, with consequences we'd never dared hoped for. If the historic Christ healed and satisfied the hunger of souls and bodies, Christ mystically present among his own knows how to do just as much now. If the historic Christ asked his Father, before dying, for oneness among his disciples, Christ mystically present among Christians knows how to bring this about. If we human beings are united in Christ's name, tomorrow we will see people united. To help us respond to all that God is asking of us through the Pope, much seems to have been prepared for us by the Holy Spirit. We need to give new impetus to our Christian life which is always too individualistic, often mediocre, but above all, lacking in authenticity.
(Taken from Yes Yes, No No, New City London 1977, pp.83-90)
1 Papa Paolo VI.
2 Odo Casel, Il mistero dell’Ecclesia, Roma 1965, p. 179.