Every year St. Nicholas has visited our parish. Unfortunately, due to the COVID pandemic and the need to limit our gatherings, his visit has had to be cancelled. However, he has not forgotten us and he has sent us his greeting via the internet. Please take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vU6CHuhrBec
The feast of St. Andrew the First-Called has special meaning for the churches of Ukraine. According to ancient legend, St. Andrew travelled up the Dnipro River and, seeing the hills where Kyiv stands today, he stopped and blessed them, foreseeing that one day a great city would rise there. St. Andrew also became the patron of the Church of Constantinople, the Church from which we received Christian faith. St. Andrew reminds us of our Christian roots and stands as a symbol of the Church united as one in faith: two brothers, Peter and Andrew, embracing in one spirit, one love, one Lord. That brotherly unity was what spurred the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople to heal the wounds of the past and rebuild the Church’s unity. 65 years ago this week Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras issued a historic declaration of regret for past wrongs, offensive words and deplorable events which occurred between their churches. They concluded their statement with these words:
[We] hope, nevertheless, that this act will be pleasing to God, who is prompt to pardon us when we pardon each other. They hope that the whole Christian world, especially the entire Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church will appreciate this gesture as an expression of a sincere desire shared in common for reconciliation, and as an invitation to follow out in a spirit of
trust, esteem and mutual charity the dialogue which, with God’s help, will lead to living together again, for the greater good of souls and the coming of the kingdom of God, in that full communion of faith, fraternal accord and sacramental life which existed among them during the first thousand years of the life of the Church.
In that spirit, Pope Francis has called all Catholics to renew their commitment to ecumenism and not fear being the first to extend our hand in love to our fellow Christians. He said “we should not wait for others to first extend their hand to us.” In a letter he reminded the bishops of the Church, that “the service of unity is an essential aspect of the mission of every Bishop, who is the ‘visible source and foundation of unity’ in his own Particular Church.”
In a letter to the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity Pope Francis wrote: At this moment, my thoughts turn to my beloved Brothers, the heads of the different Churches and Christian communities, and to all our brothers and sisters of every Christian tradition who are our companions on this journey. Like the disciples of Emmaus, may we experience the presence of the risen Christ who walks at our side and explains the Scriptures to us. May we recognize him in the breaking of the bread, as we await the day when we shall share the Eucharistic table together.
As St. Andrew journeyed up the Dnipro, bringing the Gospel of Christ to all he met, so now Pope Francis reminds us all that we are invited on a journey to rebuild the unity of the Body of Christ and “if we undertake the journey with Christ, He Himself will bring that unity about.”
Many teachers of the Church recognize that the “Kingdom of God,” that Christ spoke of in the Gospels, refers to life now, on earth. We, simple humans that we are, create the Kingdom of God by being human in the way Christ demonstrated we could be. Living in the Kingdom of God is by no means a worry-free utopia where an omnipotent deity runs the show. Christian faith does not demand belief in a sacred dictator and/or adherence to correct rules. When we care about the well-being of others as much as our own, when we seek the sacred in others and in ourselves, when we try to act in, with, and through, love, then we participate in the making of the Kingdom. It’s that simple and that difficult. In trying to live lovingly, we recognize that we can embrace ourselves and our pain, as well as others and their pain, with kindness and patience. This Kingdom is revolutionary. It is the one we approach anew every year during Advent, as we deepen our understanding of God’s incarnation.
One lesson of the Kingdom, familiar to most, is that when we are hurting the most for any reason, one of the ways to feel better is to do something nice for another. . . This Friday, just as our community mourns the loss of a dear parishioner, in Ukraine, our girls in the orphanage received our St Nicholas tidings and gifts: sorrow and joy. We can endure and embrace life and death fully only when we share ourselves—generously. Love makes us at once most strong and most vulnerable; it makes us most divinely human.
Fratelli Tutti (143)
We are continuing to examine the latest Papal encyclical, Pope Francis’s call to us to emerge from the crisis of the pandemic as a better society, a better Church. We must refuse the impulse to desire the former normal and dare to follow Christ’s example. “After the crisis, will we continue with this economic system of social injustice and disregard for the environment, creation and our common home? Let’s think about it.”
Our spotlight on the encyclical is to help each one of us assume responsibility, literally, for making the world a better place. Francis reminds us that it is each generation’s task to join in the daily struggle for love, goodness, justice, and solidarity.
We’ve looked at the exhortation to actively incorporate the teaching of the golden rule and the good Samaritan into our being—our lifestyle. This week we’ll look at the encyclical’s emphasis on the value of our cultural identity and heritage.
Francis describes the hold current demagogues have on populations, driving to “limitless consumption and expressions of empty individualism.” (13) The pope points out that the success of these (corrupt) leaders depends on “young people who have no use for history, who spurn the spiritual and human riches inherited from past generations, and are ignorant of everything that came before them”. He reminds us that our spiritual identity, our independence and moral consistency, our very soul, lies in our inherited history and tradition.We must not abandon our inherited past through apathy or negligence, because—here’s the thing—when we care for ourselves, when we value and cherish our own heritage, we are not threatened by other traditions: “I can welcome others who are different, and value the unique contribution they have to make, only if I am firmly rooted in my own people and culture”. (143) Furthermore, care for my nation involves appreciating global interdependence: a crisis (be it environmental, economic, or political) in one country ineluctably affects the planet as a whole. Ultimately, I am me through my historical culture, which is connected to all other cultures and geographies. “Each of us is fully a person when we are part of a people; at the same time, there are no peoples without respect for the individuality of each person.”
Pope Francis, like St Francis and, indeed, Christ, speaks in blatant opposition to popular figures of our day, who isolate us from each other through their discourse of individual freedoms and entitlements. “Good politics will seek ways of building communities at every level of social life, . . .” (182).
The onus is not only on our politicians and leaders, but on each of us as well. We must be ready to encounter, to listen, to learn from, others—even those with whom we disagree and especially who exist on our margins: “For they have another way of looking at things; they see aspects of reality that are invisible to the centres of power where weighty decisions are made.”
Always, without exception, as St Paul wrote to the Galatians (5:22), we are to act with kindness. “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.” (224) Francis emphasizes that being kind does not entail tolerating oppression, and, as Christians, we must take a stand against it. “We are called to love everyone, without exception; at the same time, loving an oppressor does not mean allowing him to keep oppressing us, or letting him think that what he does is acceptable.” (241)
Likewise, forgiveness still requires justice and measures to prevent repeated wrongdoing. Christian love does not run from or deny social conflict, but stands with the oppressed and the marginalized. We strive to forgive, but never to demand forgiveness. Significantly, forgiveness does not mean forgetting the wrongdoing or the hurt.
It is imperative to remember past atrocities in order to move forward. Remembering honours victims and creates a social conscience that must try to avoid repetitions of history and justifications for equally violent reprisals. “For this reason, I think not only of the need to remember the atrocities, but also all those who, amid such great inhumanity and corruption, retained their dignity and, with gestures small or large, chose the part of solidarity, forgiveness and fraternity. To remember goodness is also a healthy thing.” (249)
Pope Francis did not write this encyclical because of the pandemic, but it is especially relevant for this time and for every human being. We, Ukrainians in the diaspora, might be victims or family of victims of Russian, Polish, and German oppression. We might be migrants or refugees or children knowing our parents’ sacrifice so that we could have comfort and wealth. . .
Fratelli Tutti asks us to question ourselves—not as a pious exercise—but as a pressing social and moral obligation.
Do I identify with those who are voicing their oppression here and now? Do I stand with indigenous populations so marginalized that communities lack safe drinking water? Do I stand with those whose skin colour separates them from systemic justice? Do I stand with today’s refugees and migrants, with women, with the ever increasing groups who find themselves devalued in society for being old, different, or disabled?
With whom do I identify? Why? With whom do I connect as the world recreates to a pandemic normalcy? Whom do I believe? Is my good the collective good? Am I listening to the periphery? Who is left out? What is the new normal that I am creating?
These are among the questions we must ask ourselves again and again, as we make decisions and form judgements that shape the world.
Francis writes: “In these pages of reflection on universal fraternity, I felt inspired particularly by Saint Francis of Assisi, but also by others of our brothers and sisters who are not Catholics: Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and many more.” (286)
Let’s be sure that we too are guided by those whose example inspires us to live in love for each other and all creation: fratelli tutti.
Fratelli Tutti (77)
The parable of the Good Samaritan has penetrated popular culture to the extent that laws have been given that name. Good Samaritan laws exist to encourage bystanders to help people in need without fear of liability. In the English language, a “good Samaritan” refers to one who gratuitously helps a stranger. The term “stranger” is key, because in the gospel account, making the hero a Samaritan was mind-blowing for Jesus’s audience. Judeans despised Samaritans, whom they considered unclean, even subhuman. As a metaphor, these characters leave no question that we are to embrace all others—no matter who or where they are from.
The Samaritan who stopped along the way departed without expecting any recognition or gratitude. His effort When you recall the biblical parable, with whom do you relate? Is it the Samaritan? Of course. Who of us would walk away from a fellow lying in the street, bruised and bleeding? Not you. Not I. But when has that happened to any of us, anyway? Lucky for us, an emergency 911 call will bring paramedics to the rescue and we can carry on with our day. . . right? Wrong! Not if we take our Christian faith seriously.
In Frattelli Tutti Pope Francis asks us to recognize the Good Samaritan parable as central to our life and lifestyle. The scene is playing out constantly anew—happening now—daily: “We can see this clearly as social and political inertia is turning many parts of our world into a desolate byway, even as domestic and international disputes and the robbing of opportunities are leaving great numbers of the marginalized stranded on the roadside”.
Throughout our life, we find ourselves in the position of each character. If we are honest with ourselves, we will recall instances of being the wounded one, alone, hurting; the robber who causes suffering and leaves; the passer-by who turns away at the painful sight of suffering; the preoccupied passer-by hurrying along due to an important schedule; even the innkeeper, taking instructions of care; the stranger who compassionately gives time, money, and energy to one who would probably reject you in normal circumstances. We all have a bit of each character in us. But in this time of crisis we must take a stand, decide who we are: Samaritan or Passer-by? “Now there are only two kinds of people: those who care for someone who is hurting and those who pass by; those who bend down to help and those who look the other way and hurry off . . . Very simply, unless you are the wounded one, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Let’s also remember
Francis asks that we take responsibility for change: “Let us take an active part in renewing and supporting our troubled societies”. Rather than succumbing to apathy or listening to those who incite division and spread hateful lies, we can focus on what is good and make it the centre of our actions. We should not feel burdened by our individual responsibility, but realize that we are joining a global family dedicated to unity and interdependence. We are to look to others for strength and support.
“We can start from below and, case by case, act at the most concrete and local levels, and then expand to the farthest reaches of our countries and our world, with the same care and concern that the Samaritan showed for each of the wounded man’s injuries… . Let us renounce the pettiness and resentment of useless in-fighting and constant confrontation. Let us stop feeling sorry for ourselves and acknowledge our crimes, our apathy, our lies. Reparation and reconciliation will give us new life and set us all free from fear.
to assist another person gave him great satisfaction in life and before his God, and thus became a duty. All of us have a responsibility for the wounded, those of our own people and all the peoples of the earth. Let us care for the needs of every man and woman, young and old, with the same fraternal spirit of care and closeness that marked the Good Samaritan.”
Fratelli Tutti (52)
Pope Francis recognizes how dissonant his exhortation to change the world sounds to our ears, so accustomed to the normalized noise of individualism and insatiable consumerism. Nevertheless, he grounds his argument in current brutal reality and persistently offers hope.
Through turning our own lives around—away from the shallowness of self-indulgent digital networks—towards authentic encounter, shared wisdom with others, we can indeed stop the destruction of the planet and humanity itself. Francis discusses many “paths of hope” that when taken by each of us, ultimately will save the world. “Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile”. Francis’s insistence on reawakening our awareness of human interconnection echoes much current knowledge in science, medicine, and social sciences. But the pope demonstrates that living responsibly is described by Christ and is already outlined in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
The command to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev 19:18) is repeated in many parts of the OT: “In the first century before Christ, Rabbi Hillel stated: ‘This is the entire Torah. Everything else is commentary’”. With Christ, the imperative to love stipulates love for otherness, beyond one’s own community: “Saint Paul, recognizing the temptation of the earliest Christian communities to form closed and isolated groups, urged his disciples to abound in love ‘for one another and for all’ (1 Thess 3:12)”.
Thus, the parable of the Good Samaritan is central to Christian life: “The parable clearly does not indulge in abstract moralizing, nor is its message merely social and ethical. It speaks to us of an essential and often forgotten aspect of our common humanity: we were created for a fulfilment that can only be found in love. We cannot be indifferent to suffering; we cannot allow anyone to go through life as an outcast. Instead, we should feel indignant, challenged to emerge from our comfortable isolation and to be changed by our contact with human suffering. That is the meaning of dignity.”
Last Sunday, Pope Francis published his latest encyclical (authoritative Church teaching) called Fratelli Tutti.
This document has received criticism, understandably, for its gendered language. However, after reading the entire work, it becomes clear that, for Francis, the word “fraternity” which simply translates as brotherhood in English, does not have this simplistic meaning. Fraternity for this pope is a concept that some have described as “social friendship” but in fact is far more expansive.
It refers to a relatedness amongst all humanity, extending to the natural environment. In Fratelli Tutti, Francis describes how today’s world could revive from its present state of toxic injustice and corruption to reflect a universal fraternity that acknowledges the interdependence of nations and seeks a common respect. Fraternity recognizes human dignity, difference, history, and seeks genuine dialogue, collective wisdom, peace.
Much like his namesake, the 13th c. St Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis is responding to Christ’s call to “rebuild my church”. We must dare to return to the faith and practice of the Early Church that brought Christ’s radical vision of relationship to the world: not through self righteousness and entitlement, but through solidarity with the most vulnerable, impoverished, excluded and oppressed. Fratelli Tutti has not only religious but also social, political, and economic, ramifications.
The encyclical speaks to each of us as members of the Catholic community, but it addresses all human beings as members of the family of God—whether atheist, pagan, or members of other religions. This is a call to action. How will we respond?
Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti: “In some countries, a concept of popular and national unity influenced by various ideologies is creating new forms of selfishness and a loss of the social sense under the guise of defending national interests. Once more we are being reminded that “each new generation must take up the struggles and attainments of past generations, while setting its sights even higher. This is the path. Goodness, together with love, justice and solidarity, are not achieved once and for all; they have to be realized each day. It is not possible to settle for what was achieved in the past and complacently enjoy it, as if we could somehow disregard the fact that many of our brothers and sisters still endure situations that cry out for our attention”.
“Let’s encourage ourselves to dream, seeking these ideals,”
“Let’s not try to rebuild the past, especially the past that was already unjust and already sick.”
“We must cure a great virus, that of social injustice, inequality of opportunity, marginalization and lack of protection for the vulnerable.”
During the weeks of strictest restrictions beginning last March, the churches closed, and we adjusted as best we could to home prayer: isolated, yet collective. From our home, we shared icons, prayers, and methods of contemplative prayer (meditation). From media we’ve learned that many people, the world over, discovered spiritual connection and renewed prayer during lockdowns. Many for the first time recognized interconnectedness and interdependence among human beings and our equally fundamental interrelation with the environment.
As this realization grows, historically suppressed voices are speaking with renewed strength against their oppression. At the same time, those who have denied the “body” of Christ, benefitting from exclusion, vociferously oppose the change equality would bring.
But this connection and unity of creation is the Spirit of God—the light we see through Christ’s love—the sacredness of the earth that we celebrate on the Feast of the Transfiguration.
Whether expressed by researchers in scientific terms or artists in poetic forms, our faith tells us that we are a family of God.
Now, as we imagine a post COVID world, we must become the change we wish to see!
Every year at praznyk, we speak of being a “transfigured” community through which others around us can feel the joy and peace of Christ. Possibly we might have felt these were nice sentiments, but less than realistic? Can we be a transfigured people while slogging through work, writing exams, paying parking fines?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Can I? Can You? We can.
Can we believe the words of a pope of Rome? A leader of a Church that has made so many mistakes throughout history?
We know because we see that throughout history, corruption and greed could not destroy the Holy Spirit that shines through those who live in love.
One working class young guy, a long time ago, opposed the status quo and listened to everyone, talked to unpopular folks and didn’t care how people looked or if they were rich. He was killed. A couple of millenia later, people continue to follow His example. It is always changing the world. . .
“In the midst of crises, a solidarity guided by faith enables us to translate the love of God in our globalized culture, not by building towers or walls — and how many walls are being built today! — that divide, but then collapse, but by interweaving communities and sustaining processes of growth that are truly human and solid. And to do this, solidarity helps. I would like to ask a question: do I think of the needs of others? Everyone, answer in your heart.”
(Pope Francis: General Audience September 2, 2020)
While our thoughts might waft towards imagining the “post-Covid” world, our world, in fact, is plunging into another critical surge of coronavirus infections. Sadly, the reason is clear: too many of us do not allow the good of others to get in the way of what we want for ourselves. Whether it’s attending parties or believing voices inciting disregard for public health authorities, we risk not only our own well-being, but also the health of our society and the well-being of future generations.
It might be difficult to discern what to believe in today’s climate of social media distortions and false information. However, we, in our Faith Tradition are particularly blessed with the current prophetic leadership of our Patriarch Sviatoslav, and Pope Francis in Rome. While any leader may invoke God and religion to promote his own agenda, both Sviatoslav and Francis fearlessly point to Christ’s example of love, mercy, and openness in all situations, even though this does not promise riches and popularity.
Remember when we spoke of the African concept of “Ubuntu” where there could be no “me” without “we”? The pandemic illuminates this reality. We, as humans, have only to recognise and acknowledge its meaning, its repercussions. In short, there would be no pandemic as such, if humanity did not succumb to greed. Overconsumption, exploitation, and arrogance underlie the inequities, suffering, and degradation of the environment and humanity.
“When the obsession to possess and dominate excludes millions of persons from having primary goods; when economic and technological inequality are such that the social fabric is torn; and when dependence on unlimited material progress threatens our common home, then we cannot stand by and watch. No, this is distressing. We cannot stand by and watch! With our gaze fixed on Jesus (cf. Heb 12:2) and with the certainty that His love is operative through the community of His disciples, we must act all together, in the hope of generating something different and better. Christian hope, rooted in God, is our anchor. It moves the will to share, strengthening our mission as disciples of Christ, who shared everything with us.”
(Pope Francis: General Audience, August 26, 2020)
So, while we refocus on mitigating the spread of covid-19, it is especially important to begin planning the post-covid reality. Let’s do all we can to “transfigure” this time of public emergency into a consciousness of caring, an acknowledgment of belonging to each other regardless of race, religion, gender, ability, or sexuality. And we, sisters and brothers all, are part of God’s universe. Just as I am inextricably linked to the rest of humanity, so too am I linked to the natural environment. (Without air and water, there can be no I.)
“In the midst of crises and tempests, the Lord calls to us and invites us to reawaken and activate this solidarity capable of giving solidity, support and meaning to these hours in which everything seems to be wrecked. May the creativity of the Holy Spirit encourage us to generate new forms of familiar hospitality, fruitful fraternity and universal solidarity.”
(Pope Francis: General Audience September 2, 2020)
This new liturgical year of 2020 begins as we here in KW, and everyone the world over, are experiencing a new surge in Covid cases. Territories are being devastated by climate crises and populist governments such as those in Belarus and the US incite division and hatred among their own citizens. In our faith community we support each other to remain grounded in a spirit of caring, kindness, and hope. The Church throughout the ages has been supported by prophets to keep us focussed on Christ in the context of our time, so that we do not succumb to the allures of fear and greed, and indeed, false prophets. Currently, the pope of Rome is such a prophet. Through example he tirelessly redirects the Church (and humanity) away from valuing status, riches, and exclusivity, towards Christ’s example of love, inclusion, and social action.
On October 3rd, Pope Francis will sign his new encyclical Fratelli Tutti, in Assisi Italy. The title is taken from the 13th century St Francis’s teaching to his fellow friars. In Fratelli Tutti, the pope is to examine inequality, fragmentation and offer ways for all human beings to restore relationship with one another. This official document will call us to a new era—post-Covid—that would acknowledge, value, and act on our interrelatedness with all human beings and the natural environment.