Pope Francis said Wednesday that in every generation, God continues to ask each of us where our brother is, as he asked Cain. “The story of Cain and Abel demonstrates that we are indeed our brothers’ keeper within the human family,” he said.
In his weekly addresses over the past weeks, Pope Francis has been considering the importance of different roles and relationships within the family. This Wednesday, he reflected on the value of fraternity, learned in the family environment by relating to brothers and sisters. In the family, we learn to be accountable for all men and women.
The Pope said that we are often tempted, like Cain, to absolve ourselves of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. Like Cain, we say, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer, said Francis, is “yes.”
“In families,” Francis said, “we learn how to be good brothers and sisters; what we learn at home then becomes a source of enrichment for society as a whole.”
“‘Brother’ and ‘sister’ are words that Christianity cherishes,” Francis said.
The Pope said that “when the relationship between brothers is ruined, it opens the way for painful experiences of conflict, betrayal, and hatred.”
“The breaking of the bond between brothers is something ugly and bad for humanity,” Francis said. “How many brothers and sisters argue over small things, or over an inheritance, and then no longer speak to each other or even greet each other anymore. This is bad!”
“Brotherhood is a great thing when you think that all the brothers and sisters have inhabited the same mother’s womb for nine months. They are the flesh of the same mother! You cannot break this brotherhood,” he said.
The Pope urged the large crowd gathered in Saint Peter’s Square to pray for brothers and sisters who are divided.
He said that family life “is the great school of freedom and peace” where people “learn human coexistence, as you have to live in society.” In this sense, he said, “it is the family that introduces fraternity to the world!”
“History has shown,” Francis said, “that freedom and equality, without brotherhood, can be filled with individualism and conformity, as well as self-interest.” This is especially evident, he said, in our treatment of the most vulnerable among us.
Family fraternity shines brightest, the Pope said, “when we see the care, patience, and affection that surround a brother or sister who is weak, sick, or handicapped.” The experience of fraternal love in families, he said, “is seen especially in the care shown to our children with special needs.” Many live in this situation, he said, “and we may not fully appreciate their generosity.”
“Having a brother or a sister who loves you is a powerful experience,” he said. “It is priceless, irreplaceable.” This thought must inspire Christians to become brothers and sisters to others, Francis said, because all people “are our brothers and we should love them and treat them as such.”
“Christians,” he said, “go out to the poor and weak not to obey an ideological agenda, but because the word and example of the Lord tell us that we are all brothers.”
“This is the principle of love of God and of all justice among men,” he said. “Today more than ever it is necessary to bring fraternity to the heart of our technocratic and bureaucratic society. In this way freedom and equality will also take their right place.”
“Therefore, let us not deprive our families lightly, out of pressure or fear, of the beauty of a full fraternal experience of sons and daughters,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.