By Robin Gomes
“We build fraternity in precisely the same way that we build peace, that is starting close by, with ourselves… For us, that means universal fraternity starts with the Catholic Church,” said the Preacher of the Papal Household, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa. He made the point in his homily at the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday evening in St. Peter’s Basilica, which was presided over by Pope Francis. In observance of the Covid-19 health protocols, the liturgy was attended by a limited number of faithful.
Meanings of brother
On the day that Christians commemorate the passion and death of Jesus, the cardinal explored the notion of fraternity and unity from various perspectives, starting with the Pope’s latest encyclical Fratelli tutti.
He said the document is addressed to a very wide audience, inside and outside the Church, indeed practically to the whole of humankind. It indicates some ways to reach real and just human fraternity in the various spheres of life, ranging from the private to the public sector, and from religious circles to social and political spheres.
“The mystery of the cross that we are celebrating,” the Italian cardinal said, “obliges us to focus precisely on this Christological foundation of fraternity which was inaugurated on Calvary.” The term brother, in its most common meaning, is a sibling. A step further, it means the same nation or people. The meaning widens to include every human person, in the sense that brother is translated as neighbour as in the Bible. When Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me”, he intends to include every human person in need of help.
Fraternity after Easter
However, the 86-year-old Capuchin cardinal said, with Easter, there is a decisive development in the significance of brother. In the Paschal Mystery, Christ becomes “the firstborn among many brothers” (Rm 8:29). The disciples become brothers and sisters in a new and very profound sense. In fact, Cardinal Cantalamessa pointed out that it is only after the resurrection that Jesus calls his disciples brothers for the first time. “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’,” He tells Mary Magdalen.
After Easter, the term brother indicates a brother in the faith, a member of the Christian community - blood brothers in the blood of Christ. Rather than replacing the fraternity of family, nation, or race, this fraternity of Christ crowns them all. The Christian faith adds a second and decisive dimension, that we are brothers not only because we all have the same Father in virtue of creation, but we also have the same brother, Christ, “the firstborn among many brothers” in virtue of redemption.
Healing divisions in the Church
The Preacher of the Papal Household noted that fraternity among Catholics is wounded and divisions between Churches have come about not because of dogmas, the sacraments and ministries. “The divisions that polarize Catholics,” he said, “stem from political opinions that grow into ideologies after being given priority over religious and ecclesial considerations”, issues that are “not openly talked about or are disdainfully denied”.
For Catholics, the Italian cardinal pointed out, fraternity is built the same way that we build peace, that is by starting with ourselves, within the Church. What is needed is a serious examination of conscience and be converted. Fomenting division, he said, is the work par excellence of the devil, “the enemy who sows weeds”.
In this regard, Jesus is an example to be followed. He vehemently refused to be drawn into any of the four parties of his time - the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the Zealots. The early Christians also followed the same path.
Cardinal Cantalamessa said, “Pastors need to be the first to make a serious examination of conscience.” They need to ask themselves whether they are leading their flocks to themselves or to Jesus.