‘Fratelli Tutti’ – Some Specific Challenges for the Oblates of Mary Immaculate

Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI

In essence, Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti – On Fraternity and Social Friendship, tries to lay out the reasons why there is so much injustice, inequality, and community breakdown in our world and how in faith and love these can be addressed.

In brief, the encyclical has eight chapters within which Francis describes what he calls the darkening clouds over a closed world; the displacement of people around the world and the world’s struggle to deal with this; the need for a new vision for solidarity for our world; the need to open our hearts in a new way to make this vision a reality; the need for a better politics; the need for dialogue at all levels; the paths through which this dialogue can happen; and how all religions, not just Christianity, are needed to bring about a new order.

 The task of this article is not to give a synopsis of the encyclical, nor even to speak to its positive value, other than to say that it is deep in both its insights and in its challenge. It is also courageous and prophetic in that it speaks truth to power. The task here is rather to try to name the special challenges it brings to us as Oblates.

What are those challenges?

Looking at the Oblate charism, we can single out six salient components within our charism: Our call to serve the poor; our call to be missionary; our call to live within and minister through community; our call to be daring, our call to have the cross at the center of our spirituality; and our call to have Mary as our Patroness.

What challenges does Fratelli Tutti bring to each of these component parts of our charism?

1. Regarding our call to serve the poor: Looking at the present situation in our world, the encyclical submits that in many ways our world is a broken world and it names some of the reasons for this: the globalization of self-interest, the globalization of superficiality, and the abuse of social media. This has made for a situation of the survival of the fittest. Now, while the situation is broken for everyone, it is the poor who end up suffering the most. The rich are getting richer, the powerful are getting more powerful, the poor are growing poorer and are losing what little power they ever had. There is an ever-increasing inequality of wealth and power between the rich and the poor. The world is become ever blinder and more hardened vis-à-vis the situation of the poor. Inequality is now accepted as normal and as moral and indeed is often defended in the name of God and religion. The poor are becoming disposable and are lacking needed advocates who can share their experience, help them in their situation, and advocate for them at the centers of power.

The Oblate charism is meant to address precisely this. There can be no clearer call to us move with deliberateness and with all the resources at our disposal to be with those who are being ignored, left outside, left behind, and rendered disposable by the economic, social, and political powers today.

We must recognize that, worldwide, the dignity and rights of women are far from being upheld and our advocacy for the poor must include and highlight this inequality and injustice.

Like the Good Samaritan our eye must always be trained to see who is laying in the ditch. Who needs help and is being ignored?

  • “Some parts of our human family, it appears, can be readily sacrificed for the sake of others. Wealth has increased, but together with inequality.”
  • While one part of humanity lives in opulence, another part sees its own dignity denied, scorned or trampled upon, and its fundamental rights discarded or violated.”
  • “It is unacceptable that some have fewer rights by virtue of being women.”

2. Regarding our call to be missionary: Globalization has created new frontiers. As missionaries, we are sent out to everyone, irrespective of geographical, ethnic, social, or religious borders. Like the Good Samaritan our missionary eye must not distinguish our own from what is foreign.

We must remain strongly rooted inside our history and our tradition, but we must be open to what is new, what is foreign, and what stretches to where we have never been before.

And, in a time of bitterness, hatred, and animosity, as missionaries, we must be tender and gracious, always speaking out of love and not out of hatred, even when being prophetic.

  • “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 seek out others and embrace the world as it is, without fear of pain or a sense of inadequacy, because there we will discover all the goodness that God has planted in human hearts.”
  • [Our missionary efforts call] “for a ‘tender’ love 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.”
  • “Kindness ought to be cultivated; it is no superficial bourgeois virtue.”

3. Regarding our call to live within and minister through community: As Oblates, the idea of living within and ministering out of community is constitutive part of our charism. From our very foundation, our Founder recognized that to be effective, compassion must be collective, bigger than any one person and bigger than any one person’s talents and charisma. The encyclical calls us (indeed, calls the whole world) to this. It also reminds us that the call to be in community with each other is the ultimate call given to us. The encyclical acknowledges how difficult and counter-cultural it is today to sacrifice our own agenda, comfort, and freedom for community, but invites us to make that sacrifice.

  • “Once more we realized that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together. Unless we recover the shared passion to create a community of belonging and solidarity worthy of our time, our energy and our resources, the global illusion that misled us will collapse and leave many in the grip of anguish and emptiness. A new lifestyle is emerging, where we create only what we want and exclude all that we cannot.”
  • “I would like especially to mention solidarity which is a moral virtue and social attitude born of personal conversion.”

4. Regarding our call to be daring: The encyclical tells us that genuine daring is not predicated on simple risk-taking and prudent calculation, it is predicated on hope, that is, on the trust that God is still Lord of this earth and that we can take God’s word at face value.

Also, the encyclical invites us to be daring because in too many instances the old is no longer working and the signs of the times invite us to a new imagination, new courage, and a new fearlessness in the face of opposition and the seeming powerlessness we have in the face of the mega powers that are dictating what is happening in our world.

  • “Hope speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love… 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”.

5. Our call to have the cross at the center of our spirituality: The encyclical does not draw explicitly on a theology or spirituality of the cross in articulating its challenges. Implicitly, however, the cross undergirds many of its insights, not least the fact that the cross always stops over the place where the poor are.

But one very explicit (and far-reaching) challenge is named. The encyclical, taking its root in the way Jesus died, states explicitly and quasi-dogmatically that Christians must oppose and reject capital punishment and must always stand against war.

For us as Oblates, pro-life must from now on include opposition to both war and capital punishment.

  • “We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war’”.
  • “Never again war!
  • “Saint John Paul II stated clearly and firmly that the death penalty is inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice. ​There can be no stepping back from this position. Today we state clearly that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible’ and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide. ​All Christians and people of good will are today called to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, legal or illegal, in all its forms, but also to work for the improvement of prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their freedom.”

6. Our call to have Mary as our Patroness: The encyclical twice refers explicitly to Mary, submitting that, in imitation of her, we should be persons who “build bridges, break down walls, and sow seeds of reconciliation.” The community of love which we are trying to build needs a mother – she can give birth to this new world.

  • “And in imitation of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, we want to be a Church that serves, that leaves home and goes forth from its places of worship, goes forth from its sacristies, in order to accompany life, to sustain hope, to be the sign of unity… to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation”.​ ​
  • “For many Christians, this journey of fraternity also has a Mother, whose name is Mary. Having received this universal motherhood at the foot of the cross (cf. Jn​19:26), she cares not only for Jesus but also for “the rest of her children” (cf. Rev​12:17). In the power of the risen Lord, she wants to give birth to a new world, where all of us are brothers and sisters, where there is room for all those whom our societies discard, where justice and peace are resplendent.”

In the light of this encyclical, we, as Oblates, can be justly proud of our charism. This encyclical, in effect, reads like a contemporary expression of the Preface of our rule. And, like the Preface of our rule, the encyclical calls us, like Jesus, to have at the core of our lives and ministry the proclamation that Jesus is good news to the poor.

Ron Rolheiser
San Antonio, Texas
October 6, 2020.