In this “stepping out” it is important to be ready for encounter. For me this word is very important. Encounter with others. Why? Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others. We live in a culture of conflict, a culture of fragmentation, a culture in which I throw away what is of no use to me, a culture of waste.
Yet on this point, I ask you to think — and it is part of the crisis — of the elderly, who are the wisdom of a people, think of the children... the culture of waste! However, we must go out to meet them, and with our faith we must create a “culture of encounter”, a culture of friendship, a culture in which we find brothers and sisters, in which we can also speak with those who think differently, as well as those who hold other beliefs, who do not have the same faith.
They all have something in common with us: they are images of God, they are children of God. Going out to meet everyone, without losing sight of our own position.
There is another important point: encountering the poor. If we step outside ourselves we find poverty. Today — it sickens the heart to say so — the discovery of a tramp who has died of the cold is not news. Today what counts as news is, maybe, a scandal. A scandal: ah, that is news!
Today, the thought that a great many children do not have food to eat is not news. This is serious, this is serious! We cannot put up with this! Yet that is how things are. We cannot become starched Christians, those over-educated Christians who speak of theological matters as they calmly sip their tea. No! We must become courageous Christians and go in search of the people who are the very flesh of Christ, those who are the flesh of Christ!
Pope Francis, Meeting with Ecclesial Communities, Pentecost Vigil
Reflection – A regular reader of the blog (and a good friend of mine), commenting on my Facebook page said that these reflections from Pope Francis are tough reads, confronting reads. I was a bit surprised at that, since I have been finding them more exhilarating and energizing… but today I can see his point!
It is indeed a tough reflection that Angelina Jolie’s bosom makes more headlines than Syrian refugees. Rob Ford’s (still non-existent!) crack video gets more ink than Darfur (for my non-Canadian blog readers, be glad you don’t know what I’m talking about).
Meanwhile our call is not to wring our hands about our lousy culture and its lousy media. It is to go out and help people. According to our means, according to the real circumstances of our lives, according to a sane, generous assessment of our personal resources and the real needs of people we have access to—yes, of course.
But we have to be clear that as Christians we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, and it is a very challenging call indeed. To love as Christ loves, to not just talk about love but to do it, to really serve, really help, really give of our time, money, gifts—this is Christianity in action.
Now it all has to be discerned. Parents raising a large family still ranging down into the baby phase are going to be pretty limited in terms of both time and money, and of course one’s own children are in a sense ‘the poor’, certainly are the neighbors you are called to love.
But… it seems to me that love has no limits, no boundaries. It is the nature of love, like yeast, to always grow, always expand, always push out its horizons, always reach out to include more. It is a natural tendency, perhaps, in Christian families and communities to pull up the drawbridge, to bar the gates, to decide that the limits of our love will be to love the people we have been given already, to take care of our children or our parishioners, or our community members, circle the wagons and let the rest of the world take care of itself.
It is understandable—the Lord knows the demands of love already on us are high—but I don’t think as Christians we can do that. Love grows—that’s the nature of love. If our love is not growing, it is dying. If our gaze is not directed outwards, always outwards, to the poor at our gates, the forgotten, lonely ones, the hungry and homeless, then our gaze is ultimately directed inward to ourselves.
This is indeed challenging—as I write these words, I feel it as a deep challenge within myself—but I simply don’t see a Gospel way around it. Love is our law, and love extends to the ends of the earth, to every human being, to the whole of humanity, or it is not really love. And of course love is not some abstract ideal or ideological program.