Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, tweeted out a speech he gave on being Christian in a secularized society. He said that: “The greatest challenge we face is how to deal with the lack of love that runs through all of our society.”
“A widespread feeling of insecurity has made everyone more fearful and often produces a growing wall of mistrust,” he said. “But fear never protects anyone, and a race to ‘save yourself’ doesn’t save anyone. To build walls, to grow distances between people, to stay inside one’s own little world, little city, little region, little country, little diocese, little community —none of this leads to salvation.”
“And things get worse,” Paglia said, “if we give up and think that the world cannot be changed. If we do that, we surrender to a merciless world and become partners with evil.”
That people feel alone while being more connected than at any other time in the history of the world is not breaking news. Right in front of you as you commute, where you work, in your home, there is someone feeling desperately alone even with you, and perhaps amid crowds he could look up to and encounter.
“Encounter” is a big word for Pope Francis. You see why when you take a look around, and see everything tending to fall into patterns of overlooking – that “globalization of indifference” he so often talks about.
Earlier this week, while I was waiting for an Uber with two Marian religious sisters in Hell’s Kitchen (no kidding), a woman walking two dogs came up to them and asked them to pray for her fiancé.
“He’s in the hospital, she told the nuns. “He really needs prayers. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The light was red, so she went on, where at first she didn’t think she was going to bother to go.
“He has anxiety,” she said. “It’s really bad.”
She looked like she was teetering between being stuck and resigned, or on the verge of cutting loose. Whatever the case, whatever the decision, she certainly didn’t seem joyfully planning a wedding.
During the canonization Mass for Junipero Serra this past September in Washington, D.C., Pope Francis asked: “What can we do to keep our heart from growing numb, becoming anesthetized?” That woman wasn’t there yet, but she sure seemed a portrait of someone falling into that temptation, because of hurt, because of the struggle, because of the reactions and the pain – for some semblance of protection in the midst of uncertainty and loneliness.
I saw another woman a little later, probably about 30 years younger, in her twenties, who sat on a sidewalk outside a closed business with a sign reading “In need of a miracle” and a disposable coffee cup. She’s far from alone.
The Pope Francis answer to the question he raised was to point to the Bible:
“Jesus gives the answer,” Francis said. “He said to his disciples then, and he says it to us now: Go forth! Proclaim! The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.”
Those Marian Sisters were a sign of God, a sign of hope for a woman who happened to be walking her dogs, maybe in search of her own miracle. That two women would give their lives in a sacrifice of love for God and His people in the world today does seem a miracle. And there are more where they came from!
Their encounter with a woman on the street (and sisters who maneuver through city streets can tell you similar stories for hours) – stands as a reminder and a challenge to every Christian. Those of us who have encountered Jesus Christ as our Savior simply must be as gratuitous with our love as God is.
There’s simply no other way to be true to who we say we are.
And that means considering: What more? What next? During that D.C. homily, Pope Francis borrowed from Saint Serra:
“Father Serra had a motto which inspired his life and work, not just a saying, but above all a reality which shaped the way he lived: siempre adelante! Keep moving forward! For him, this was the way to continue experiencing the joy of the Gospel, to keep his heart from growing numb, from being anesthetized.”
“He kept moving forward, because the Lord was waiting,” the pope said. “He kept going, because his brothers and sisters were waiting. He kept going forward to the end of his life. Today, like him, may we be able to say: Forward! Let’s keep moving forward!”
There will be no good, successful answers in politics or anything else today until the country is full of believers who act on what we profess to believe. The world doesn’t need us to hide or ghettoize, be chameleons or turtles, as Harvard Law professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon puts it – that is, blending in or hiding in the hopes of avoiding clashes or having to speak up.
Receive a Sacrament of love and mercy – God Himself – today and ask: “What more? What next?” Overflowing with gratitude for His love is the gift of mercy we can give for moving forward.
Paglia, in his speech put it this way: “Christian love is prophetic, it performs miracles; it has no limits; it does the impossible.”
“It spreads itself because it is the most beautiful and most attractive way to spread the Gospel,” he said. “A Church that puts no limits on love, that has no enemies to fight, only men and women to love, is the Church that the world needs today.”
Why would we ever let ourselves get too busy or distracted to deprive anyone in the world of this?
If we’ve gotten it wrong before, which most of us can confess to, it would seem that the Church has given us an opportunity to make this “mercy mandate” of the Gospels a way of life before the “year,” where it’s stamped outside or inside most Catholic churches, is over.