Monday, March 12, 2012

Shutting Off

Sacred Scripture warns us of the danger that our hearts can become hardened by a sort of “spiritual anesthesia” which numbs us to the suffering of others. The Evangelist Luke relates two of Jesus’ parables by way of example. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite “pass by”, indifferent to the presence of the man stripped and beaten by the robbers (cf. Lk -32). In that of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man is heedless of the poverty of Lazarus, who is starving to death at his very door (cf. Lk ). Both parables show examples of the opposite of “being concerned”, of looking upon others with love and compassion.

What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else. We should never be incapable of “showing mercy” towards those who suffer. Our hearts should never be so wrapped up in our affairs and problems that they fail to hear the cry of the poor.

Humbleness of heart and the personal experience of suffering can awaken within us a sense of compassion and empathy. “The upright understands the cause of the weak, the wicked has not the wit to understand it” (Prov 29:7). We can then understand the beatitude of “those who mourn” (Mt 5:5), those who in effect are capable of looking beyond themselves and feeling compassion for the suffering of others. Reaching out to others and opening our hearts to their needs can become an opportunity for salvation and blessedness.
2012 Lenten Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

 Reflection – Well the Pope continues to challenge us here. Good Lenten reading! Uncomfortable! I think that, on top of the two reasons he gives why we can become dulled to the pain of others—material sufficiency and self-absorption—I would add a third.

Sometimes, I think we ‘shut off’ to the pain of others and of the world because it just seems so overwhelming. It is beyond us; we can’t help everyone. Some days it seems like we can’t help anyone. And so to stand in the face of human suffering and misery, helpless and poor, is extraordinarily difficult. In fact, it may well seem impossible. So we shut off. We turn on—the TV, the radio, the music. Think about something else. Consciously or unconsciously choose not to care too much about all these people—the ones we know and the ones we don’t know.

This is understandable (to say the least!) but is a woeful mistake. It’s not that we can never relax, never have a good time, never watch TV or whatever. But if we do this ‘shutting off’ thing, we are not only shutting off the poor and the afflicted.

We’re shutting off… well, Jesus, for starters. ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.’ And also the deep truth of our own being. We are inter-connected. I am part of you, and you part of me. If I cut you off, I’m cutting off my own self. Terrible mistake!

But it is extraordinarily hard to really and deeply care about the pains and miseries of all humanity. It seems to me that this indeed is the ‘opportunity for salvation and blessedness’ the Pope mentions at the end of this section.

In other words, it is so hard to behold and truly be affected by the misery of the world that it drives us to Jesus like few other things can. We cannot carry the grief of the world; Jesus can and did and does. And so as we open our hearts to this one or that one, to this situation or that tragedy, it pushes us to cry out to Jesus. He can, will, and in fact does do in us what we cannot do in ourselves. And the ongoing choice to have this deep concern for humanity keeps us so closely welded to Jesus, so totally in need of his grace and help, that it is indeed a privileged way of encountering his saving power and love.

And isn’t that just what Lent is all about?


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