Let us thank God for the wondrous feast of Christmas with its remarkable power to gladden our hearts, lift our spirits and bring us closer together. Distressed by the division and misunderstanding in our society today, we welcome the comforting Christmas celebration of the birth Jesus Christ, the “Wonderful Counselor.” Bombarded by bad news of wars, school shootings and domestic violence, we celebrate the good news of Christmas, the birth of Christ, the Prince of Peace. Tempted to discouragement, cynicism and even despair by the prevalent power of demonic forces, we rejoice in the birth of Christ, the Mighty God who is more powerful than all the dark forces that threaten us, a faith conviction that empowers us to live as people of hope.
To enrich our celebration of Christmas, I invite reflection on the encyclical Fratelli Tutti issued by Pope Francis in 2020 during the Covid Pandemic which today encourages us to remain hopeful believers in the midst of our current challenges. Speaking more like a wise and compassionate pastor than an academic theologian, Francis assures us that “God continues to sow abundant seeds of goodness in our human family” (n 54). He goes on:
I invite everyone to renewed hope, for 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. Let us continue, then, to advance along the paths of hope (n 55).
Throughout Fratelli Tutti, Francis calls us to follow Christ the Prince of Peace and do our part to spread his peace in our sphere of influence. He reminds us that Christ strenuously resisted violence:
Jesus never promoted violence or intolerance. He openly condemned the use of force to gain power over others: You know that the rulers of Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you (Mt.20:25-26). Instead, the Gospel tell us to forgive seventy times seven (Mt 18:22) and offers the example of the unmerciful servant who was himself forgiven, yet unable to forgive others in turn (cf. Mt 18:23-35).
In the next paragraph Francis notes (n 239):
The early Christian communities, living in a pagan world marked by widespread corruption and aberrations, sought to show unfailing patience, tolerance and understanding. Some texts are very clear in this regard: we are told to admonish our opponents with gentleness (2 Tm 2:25) and encouraged to speak evil to no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish (Tm 3:2-3). The Acts of the Apostles notes that the disciples, albeit persecuted by some of the authorities, had favor with all the people (2:47; cf.4:21-33: 5:13).
The Pope reminds us that Christ calls all of us to be “peacemakers, men and women prepared to work boldly and creatively to initiate processes of healing and renewed encounter” (n 225). Every peace process requires enduring commitment. It is a patient effort to seek truth and justice, to honor the memory of victims and to open the way, step by step, to a shared hope stronger than the desire for vengeance” (n 226).
In a section on Christian ideals, Francis admonishes us that to be peacemakers and signs of hope, we must be attuned to the fundamental message of the Gospels:
We Christians are very much aware that if the music of the Gospel ceases to resonate in our very being, we will lose the joy born of compassion, the tender love born of trust, the capacity for reconciliation that has its source in our knowledge that we have been forgiven and sent forth. If the music of the Gospel ceases to sound in our homes, our public squares, our workplaces, our political and financial life, then we will no longer hear the strains that challenge us to defend the dignity of every man and woman. For us the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From it, there arises, for Christian thought and for the action of the Church, the primacy given to relationship, to the encounter with the sacred mystery of the other, to universal communion with the entire human family, as a vocation of all (n 277).
The Pope insists that peacemakers engage in genuine dialogue that is respectful of diverse viewpoints:
The path to social unity always entails acknowledging the possibility that others have, at least in part, a legitimate point of view, something worthwhile to contribute, even if they were in error or acted badly. We should never confine others to what they may have said or done, but value them for the promise that they embody, a promise that always brings with it a spark of new hope (N 228).
Pope Frances concludes Fratelli Tutti with An Ecumenical Christian Prayer:
O God, Trinity of love,
from the profound communion of your divine life,
pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love.
Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus,
in his family of Nazareth,
and in the early Christian community.
Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel,
discovering Christ in each human being,
recognizing him crucified
in the sufferings of the abandoned
and the forgotten of our world,
and risen in each brother or sister
who makes a new start.
Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,
reflected in all the peoples of the earth,
so that we may discover anew
that all are important and all are necessary,
different faces in the one humanity
that God so loves. Amen.
Inspired by the encouraging words of Pope Frances, let us all find ways to honor the birth of the Prince of Peace by promoting peace in our sphere of influence. Some possibilities. In the family circle, carry the Christian spirit into the coming year. In the neighborhood, host a party that brings together neighbors of diverse backgrounds. In the parish, invite a person with a different spirituality to go to brunch after Mass. In the city, write an affirming letter to an elected representative who supported bipartisan legislation that helped address a local problem. In the state and country, vote for candidates willing to work with others for the common good. In the global order, pray for peace among nations not only during Christmas but throughout the year.
About the Author
Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at frjimbacik.org.