A Culture of Encounter: Be the Church, by Father Pat O'Shea

Sept 13, 2021

The “Be” in the poster promoting Social Justice Week 2021, which runs from September 12-18, caught my attention. It seemed to speak about something essential – about how we want to be in the world. As I looked though the resources available on the Caritas website around Social Justice Week that initial impression was confirmed.  It actively promotes the be-attitudes of Jesus over against what one theologian calls the “me -attitudes” that many people are embracing today.   

The beatitudes are also at the heart of Fratelli Tutti. Pope Francis speaks of black clouds gathering over our world. There are many forces at work that are causing greater fragmentation and division in the human family. We are witnessing the rise of authoritarian governments, violent nationalism, and xenophobia. Many alternative voices have been silenced and many journalists killed.   One consequence recognised by the New Zealand bishops in their statement promoting Social Justice Week is that it is increasingly difficult to have informed public debate on significant issues as divisions run so deep.

Is this how we really want to be? Is there not at the heart of humanity a desire for happiness? The way our world is moving now will not lead to the happiness we seek. As followers of Jeus we know that there is an alternative way. It is a way that at first sight seems counter intuitive – how can the meek, the poor, the persecuted be seen as happy or blessed. Yet those who live the beatitudes not only find themselves to BE blessed but become a blessing for others.  Or perhaps it is the other way round. In being a blessing for others because they are gentle, pure of heart, open to pain, poor, hunger for what is right, peacemakers they find themselves blessed.  

Sr Joan Chittister in her National Catholic Reporter column describes the beatitudes as “the essence of personal development, the backbone of communal goodness, and a seedbed for the re-emergence of "the common good" in the 21st century. She says they are “a common blueprint for both personal relations and national character”.

Social Justice Week 2021 seeks to build on what Pope Francis proclaims in Fratelli Tutti.  Both call for a Culture of Encounter that recognises that we are “a single family living in a common home”.    A message promoting social friendship, human dignity, and the common good needs to be heard more than ever today. Social Justice Week invites people to engage afresh with the beatitudes. It holds up for reflection and imitation the story of the good Samaritan. He chose how he wanted to be in the world, which was to be compassionate, and generous to the stranger he encountered.  

Father Pat O'Shea - Lower Hutt