The year 1992 was the Ruby Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II. However, it was a tough year for the British Royal Family. There was a seemingly endless number of scandals and misfortunes, including a “tell-all” book by Princess Diana; a breakdown in the marriages of her other two children; and even a fire in Windsor Castle. While all families have their struggles, The Royals position in society ensures that everything in their lives is dramatically magnified and scrutinized. In a speech late in that year, Queen Elizabeth said: “When I look back on this year, it will not be with undiluted pleasure.” If there were prizes for British understatement, this would be high on the list. I suspect for many of us, our year end remembrances of 2020, especially for those who lost someone to the Pandemic or otherwise, will be in a similar vein.
In reflecting on this past year, a bright spot that stands out for me, is Pope Francis Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti or translated, All Brothers, published in October, 2020. Unfortunately the title was read by some as a gender preference, though that was not the intent. Regardless of our feeling about the title, nothing should detract from the visionary and prophetic messages it contained. You can access a copy on vatican.va (A disclaimer: it’s not a page-turner but well worth reading.) At a time when the most vulnerable in our society, minorities and the elderly, were bearing the brunt of the ravages of Covid 19; when runaway capitalism saw some of the rich increase their wealth dramatically while millions of people lost jobs; where weapons produced by supposedly “developed” societies continued enabling oppression in many parts of our world including our neighbors in Mexico (and I could go on), here was a voice, like a light shining in the darkness, calling us to a new vision for our global community.
Like his namesake 800 years ago, who heard God’s call to “repair His church”, and who set about doing just that undaunted by the many obstacles, Pope Francis appears to be following in those same footsteps, perhaps with an even bigger scope. He is calling for a renewed passion for Jesus teaching to respect all of God’s creation, especially “the least of these” (Matthew 25), but also our planet itself. A challenge to all of us that the imbalances in the status quo, that marginalize and destroy communities, are unacceptable.
As christians, on a typical Sunday, we dutifully pray after the scripture readings for all of the church’s intentions: the sick, the hungry, first responders, for peace in the world and so on. And while most if not all of us are well intentioned, I suspect our prayers are a somewhat half-hearted: half-hoping God will come down and sort out this mess, while we get on with our lives as soon as mass is over. However, the Pope’s message to us was twofold: things can be fixed (but we need to acknowledge they need repair), and we, you and me, have to fix them. We are Christ’s body on earth. We are how God gets things done.
As we begin a new year, I’ll admit to not being ready to give up my comfortable lifestyle to join a mission to Africa or anything so worthwhile. What I will resolve to do, and I hope you will too, is to try and be aware of all of the injustices around me and how I contribute to them. And that when I pray, I will pray with a sincere heart for the grace to do something about the unfairness of our world wherever I see an opportunity. And while Pope Francis is clearly a beacon of hope for the future, perhaps we can add our little light to his, even if our flickers periodically.