At the beginning of his latest encyclical, Pope Francis quotes Saint Francis… “only the man who approaches others, not to draw them into his own life, but to help them become ever more fully themselves, can truly be called a father.”
When I paused over that sentence, my mind fleshed it out with two names. St. Irenaeus, a second-century theologian, was convinced that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive!” Fully a son or daughter of God, fully a sister and brother to one another.
Then comes the name of Father Fred Gaulin, CM. He listened to a teenager wondering about his life. He walked alongside me as I began the necessary process of separating from my father and mother to forge my own identity as John.
As he listened to me, I sensed the respect he had for this searching teenager. I began to truly respect my uniqueness and gifts. In a very profound way, he became the kind of “father” that Saint Francis described. Fifty years later at our dining room tables I still instinctively wanted to call him Father rather than Fred.
Of course, he built on the foundation that I received from my mother and father from the moment of my conception to that phase. But that is another reflection.
Structures that support becoming fully alive.
I was fortunate to grow up in a much less polarized world. Granted, the world in which I grew up had its share of wars, racism both tribal and national. Children growing up today live in an angrier and a more individualistic environment that has lost sight of the realization that we are sons and daughters, and sisters and brothers. We have poor structures and mindsets that are not conducive to helping people thrive and become fully alive. The second chapter of Pope Francis’ encyclical paints a painful picture of our fractured village.
With the vision of the prophets and Jesus he challenges us
“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. (#228)
Pope Francis calls us to respect and support one another regardless of any ultimately superficial differences, as we journey to becoming more who we are in God’s eyes.
“What must be done”
St. Vincent de Paul, in many different ways, always asked himself “What must be done.” Today we call it “the Vincentian Question.”
We can be overwhelmed by what needs to be done to ensure that we are building a village that helps each and every person become fully him or herself. But we can learn from Vincent who always simply did the next thing that would foster a village where all could flourish. It was by taking each next step that he changed the face of France.
So “What must I do?” It brings me back to what I learned from the people in my life. If we can listen to one another with respect and belief in what is possible we will be taking the next step to making it possible for each of us to become more fully alive.
This post first appeared on Vincentian Mindwalk.