As you could see from the quote I used at the end of my last essay, the following is a meditation on the reality and practical applications of love. Here, Pope Francis is following the lead of Pope St John Paul II, especially in the latter’s encyclical Laborem Exercens. There John Paul wrote that there are only two kinds of human activity that require us to transcend ourselves even to the point of creating (or procreating) something other than ourselves—love and work. Both involve production (or reproduction) that yields something unique and special. And so Francis insists, “Our relationships, if healthy and authentic, open us to others who expand and enrich us. …we find that our hearts expand as we step out of ourselves and embrace others” (#89). One important way of doing this, he suggests, is engaging in acts of hospitality, both as individuals and as nations. Once again, this requires us to recognize the inherent dignity of the other as a person (or a group as a people). Failure in authentic hospitality, he says, produces “existential foreigners,” including persons with disabilities, the elderly, and so on (##97-98). To undo this situation he advocates what he calls “social friendship,” something that makes a true society possible. And it invites us to consider societies that are “…not monochrome; if we are courageous, we can contemplate it in all the variety and diversity of what each individual person [or group in society] has to offer” (#100). Later he will refer to this vision as one of a cultural multi-faceted polyhedron.
As a virtue based on this vision, Pope Francis offers us a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22)—goodness/benevolence: “This is the attitude that ‘wills the good’ for others” (#112). And we must work to pass this and other virtues on; otherwise, “…what is handed down are selfishness, violence, corruption in its various forms, indifference and, ultimately, a life closed to transcendence and entrenched in individual interests”( #113). We see far too much of this as it is.
Ignatius of Loyola taught that to work against a given vice, don’t struggle against it; rather, cultivate the opposite virtue. For Pope Francis, this means service because authentic service brings us face-to-face with the “other” to remind us of our common connection as adopted children of God: “…service in great part means ‘caring for [the vulnerable]… Service always looks into [others’] faces, touches their flesh… Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people” (#115). This makes me think of the outreach our St Vincent de Paul Society does; I think of the Salvation Army’s work; I think of soup kitchens in downtown Mobile. I think, too, of the work I did in Rome while in seminary, with the Communità di Sant’Egidio, working with street people and refugees, and with the homeless helped by the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa. These were experiences that for me made for changes in my heart because I did not serve “the poor”—I served people. This is the experience that Pope Francis wishes for all of us, to make us more and more truly brothers and sisters.
There is more to come!