By Cardinal Michael Louis Fitzgerald
In a Christian prayer, the Roman Canon or First Eucharistic Prayer, a prayer of the Western Catholic tradition, Abraham is described as “our father in faith”. He is presented as a model of faith on account of his obedience to God. He obeyed God when he left his country, his family and their gods, “not knowing where he was to go”, but trusting that God would lead him to the land that he had promised to give him and his descendants. He believed that God would give him a son, even though he and his wife Sarah were advanced in age. He showed his obedience to God through his readiness to sacrifice this son. His name was changed from Abram to Abraham, because he was to be the “the father of a multitude of nations”. It is through sharing in this faith and imitating it, rather than through physical descent, that people become children of Abraham.
Abraham is revered and recognized as a model not only by Christians, but by Jews first of all and also by Muslims. There exists an association in France called La Fraternité d’Abraham. Jews, Christians and Muslims do not merely believe in a God of reason, a ‘god of philosophers’, as Pascal put it, but in a living God, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’.
Jews see Abraham as the father of their race. Muslims include him among the prophets, and see in him the champion of monotheism. According to the Islamic tradition Abraham built up the Ka’ba as a place of worship for the One God,. He also “submitted himself to God’s plan” (and in this way is reckoned to be the first true muslim), showing readiness to sacrifice his son (this obedience being commemorated in Eid al-Adha). It is because Abraham seeks to submit to God’s will that he becomes God’s friend (khalil), but this friendship with God is not lived by Abraham in a self-centred way; on the contrary it impels him to intercede for those who are in need, and in particular for the inhabitants of Sodom among whom was his nephew, Lot, and his family.
Meditation on Abraham may lead us to place more emphasis on fraternity. We can also find great stimulation in the Document on human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed jointly in Abu Dhabi, on 4 February 2019, by Pope Francis and Dr Ahmad al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar.
This document does not mention Abraham, but it bases its teaching on belief in God the Creator. The “Introduction” to the document starts with the following words:
Faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved. Through faith in God, who has created the universe, creatures and all human beings (equal on account of his mercy), believers are called to express this human fraternity in safeguarding creation and the entire universe and supporting all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need.
The document proper starts with a series of invocations of which the first reads:
In the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and who has called them to live together as brothers and sisters, to fill the earth and make known the values of goodness, love and peace.
This document is realistic since it takes into account progress in today’s world, but also recognizes the injustice of inequality and the presence of constant conflict. It is also courageous: the two joint signatories are ready to engage the members of their respective religions along this way of fraternity, even though they may not be surprised to meet with some opposition. They show courage too in making a clear condemnation of terrorism and extremism in all its forms.
This Document on Human Fraternity is very wide-ranging. It underlines the importance of reinforcing the bond of fundamental human rights, emphasizing the rights of women, of children, of the elderly and the weak. It upholds freedom, including the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. It considers crucial the establishment of societies in which full citizenship is guaranteed. n tackling the problem of extremism, as noted above, it evokes the need of protection for places of worship. It calls for a culture of tolerance, but it would seem to be advocating more than mere tolerance since it certainly does not encourage a laissez-faire attitude and it stigmatizes individualism. What it demands is moral regeneration. All this is summed up in the following statement which forms a sort of slogan:
(We) declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method or standard.
This document is of particular importance for
all who believe that God has created us to understand one another, cooperate with one another and live as brothers and sisters who love one another.
Yet it is in fact all-embracing, no-one is excluded. The third paragraph of the introduction refers to all people who have faith in God and faith in human fraternity, so it is offered to the attention of humanists as well as religious believers. It constitutes an invitation to reconciliation and fraternity among all-believers and indeed among believers and non-believers, and among all people of good will.
While it is good to rediscover ourselves as members of the Abrahamic family, this should not become a closed circle. Our relationship with God, the God of Abraham but also the God of the whole of humankind, should instill in us a spirit of openness, of goodness and kindness, of respect and compassion, for all our fellow human beings. Just as our belief in God as the Creator of the Universe should lead us to respect the earth in which we live and to use its resources wisely and with consideration for future generations.
We can accompany and strengthen this attitude by prayer, bringing before God our brothers and sisters and imploring for them God’s blessing, remembering that the blessing bestowed on Abraham is a blessing for the whole world.