As we enter the new year, I can’t help but be filled with hope for the future. While 2020 was dreadful for everyone, now we at least have the hope of vaccines and treatments for Covid-19.
However, I also hope that any eventual ‘normal’ does not mean a return to the way things were before. I do not believe we can go back to our narrow, selfish world where we put the barriers up against those in need and try to separate ourselves from poorer nations. We can’t go back to the inhumane way in which we – a rich, developed nation – treat asylum-seekers and refugees and the poorest in our own society. I hope our preoccupation with celebrity status finally comes to an end as we realise what it is, and who it is, that makes society function.
At the heart of Fratelli Tutti, the Pope’s latest encyclical, is the parable of the Good Samaritan. I have always loved that story because it offers a wonderfully provocative account of who is the true neighbour. Who is it that reaches out to the man robbed and beaten by the side of the road? It is the foreigner, the one who doesn’t fit in. Pope Francis says this story offers the ‘criterion for judging every economic, political, social and religious project’. It is a reminder that the Gospel invites us to respond to our sisters and our brothers who are in need without judging whether or not they deserve that response by superficial criteria as so many of us do. We are challenged to turn outwards, to act as neighbours, and to reach out to all those who are in need.
Also central to this encyclical is the conviction that we are called to love, and that call is not something that is only felt or lived out with our friends and families. Love is not just about personal relationships but should also be at the heart of everything we do, socially, politically and economically.
There are many people who have been wounded and broken because of what has happened in 2020 and we must never forget the pain that has dogged the lives of so many. However, that should spur us on to try and create what Paul VI called ‘a society of sharing solidarity and love’.
If we take to heart the Gospel message then we can indeed face the future with hope and work to create a new type of society where the poorest are the most valuable, where economic wealth is shared and we can live in peace with one another. Pray every day that any future new ‘normal’ will be one in which all people are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve as Children of God – for when that happens, as Julian of Norwich wrote, ‘all will be well and all manner of things will be well’.