November 15, 2020

In this fourth and last column on Pope Francis’ encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, I respond to two questions. First, why did he write this? Second, what is his essential message?

Some time ago, I watched a movie called, “A Moment to Remember”. The movie is about a man who falls in love with a woman, who turns out to have dementia. About halfway through the film, when the woman finds out that she has dementia, she struggles to see any hope in continuing her relationship, and breaking down before her lover, she cries to him,

“Think about it, it’s all over, what’s the point of loving me if my memory is gone? So don’t be nice to me, I’ll forget everything.”

Upon hearing these words, the man ponders, and for a moment, he too is filled with sadness in his eyes. But, instead of giving in to despair, he picks her up from the ground, and bringing her up to her feet, he tells her,

“I’ll remember everything for you, I’ll be your memory, I’ll be your heart.”

I ask you, is this not also, the Church’s proclamation to the world? The world, which forgets, time and time again, for it suffers a “spiritual dementia”, and thus needs to be reminded of the truth, that we belong to one another, for we are all children of God, “the Father of all”. 

Pope Francis’ explains, “As believers, we are convinced that without an openness to the Father of all, there will be no solid and stable reasons for an appeal to fraternity. We are certain that ‘only with this awareness that we are not orphans, but children, can we live in peace with one another’. For ‘reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity.’” (Fratelli Tutti 272, italics added).

In a sense, Fratelli Tutti is an echo of what the Church has been proclaiming all along, throughout her existence. The essential message, which Christ proclaimed, by his incarnation, that is, the Word became flesh, so that we might know God’s love, and by his rising from the dead and his ascension to heaven, Christ showed us that we belong to the Father, and that we are his children, destined for the heavenly kingdom.

How often do we forget this simple truth? That we belong to the Father, that we are his children, and therefore we belong to one another, as brothers and sisters? And what is the price we pay for forgetting this truth?

Mother Teresa once said, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and helplessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty-it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

I believe more than ever, our world needs the Church to be a witness of God’s love. In a world that suffers from “spiritual dementia”, I wonder for many people, even as they hunger for God, their repeated “forgetting” of God has planted a seed of doubt in their heart,

“what’s the point of loving me, don’t be nice to me, I’ll forget everything.”

Herein lies our chance to be Church, to pick up this world from the ground, to put it back on its feet, and say,

“I’ll remember everything for you, I’ll be your memory, I’ll be your heart.”

Deacon Val Park