A Jesuit Brother’s loving journey into Catholic Spirituality.(4): Envisioning a better, (more loving) world.
Source of picture: h≠I wrote this entry during Lent. You know, that holy time during which Christians prepare their hearts for Easter, and draw near to God through the practices of prayer, fasting, and giving. What we may sometimes struggle to remember is that the true purpose of our Lenten practices are never about bettering ourselves, and always about drawing closer to God.
A good way of appropriating Lent for me this year was to build up on a healthy ‘Martha Mary’ dynamic that has been at work in my life for sometime. This is a dynamic that invites us to remain grounded in God in our prayer life, so that our actions reflect the profound faith and beautiful light of God we carry.
One thing that has helped develop that dynamic even more in me is the wisdom of Pope Francis. More specifically, his words from ‘Let us Dream’(published last year) are having a lasting effect on me. Through it, he expresses his holistic vision for a more just post pandemic world and the loving ways in which we all can do more to care for others. He challenges us by saying that we can’t go back to normal. Something has to change. Our attitudes towards creation and toward each other need to be more caring. Our actions towards others need to be grounded in compassion and understanding for all people. I
was blessed to lead a retreat about the key themes in ‘Let Us Dream’ in January, which gave me such an insight on his deepest desires for the Church and the world. In this entry, I’d like to focus on my impressions, and how this new vision connects with the wisdom of his encyclical, Fratelli Tutti.
One thing that stands out from these texts for me is that they both point to a vision that he carries that I find poignant, and even heartbreaking. I say heartbreaking because it’s so darn beautiful!!! There were moments when my heart couldn’t take what was speaking about. The depth of the beauty of his vision is almost too intense.
I also recognize within myself that his vision would require so much from me as an individual that sometimes, all I can do is be overwhelmed: He speaks about the injustice of a world that allowed Covid to be worse than it could have been. He also speaks of a world built on fraternal love where we have compassion for our sisters and brothers around the world. I
t’s a poignant vision, but to some it may appear unrealistic. I can almost hear how the world I was raised in would, upon hearing the words he utters in these two texts, say something like, ‘this is hippie talk, no one could ever live or love this way’. Sometimes I agree: I feel Pope Francis’s ideas are lofty and unattainable. And maybe it is too big for us. Maybe the way he is encouraging us to love each other more deeply and justly is too radical.
I feel even Francis recognizes how radical his vision can be sometimes. That is why he looks to Jesus for inspiration. When it comes to skillfully responding to love’s movements within us, Jesus is an admirable role model. Jesus devotes his entire being to self-sacrificial loving. He taught his disciples to bring that prayerful way of living and acting upon God’s love to the ends of the earth.
Throughout history, great mystics and holy people like St Francis of Assisi, St Ignatius of Loyola, St Teresa of Avila and many others would walk in Jesus’s footsteps and live out this vision of Great Love. They didn’t do it perfectly, but authentically.
And that’s the key idea for me here: We don’t call them saints because they were perfect. We call them saints because in their love for God, they were also able to love humanity and all of creation more deeply than the world around them seemed to be able to.
The spark of inspiration given to them by the Spirit infused their hearts with the wisdom of how much Jesus loved them. They knew their capacity to love others in return. Not just loving those close to them, or those who think like them, as many humans are often prone to do, but loving all radically.
This is so beautiful, and as I’ve been saying, so easy to reject. The reason it’s easy to ignore or reject is because living love’s calling is challenging. Many in our world, and even in the Church seem almost indifferent to such a vision. Perhaps that indifference is really what fuels the negative reactions of many Catholics towards this Pope. While I may not approve of their criticism, I also fall short of this wonderful way of living.
That is why I can sympathize with the frustrations some have towards him. But we have to remember that there are many instances in Church history when a Pope, mystic or a saint presented a vision that clashed with our own sense of complacency. When that happens, it’s hard for us to embrace the radicality described in the Gospels. When spirituality sounds like hard work, we may decide it’s ‘unrealistic’.
I admit that the vision Pope Francis puts forth in his papacy is challenging, but it’s also life altering. And yes, at times, his ideas are bittersweet. That’s also why I described it as heartbreaking from the get go. It’s not easy to engage in such a world view that feels so contrary to the world around us.It’s not easy to try to take in all the beauty that this vision may long for, when we see how much the world may not be ready for such an insightful, deeply spiritual way of living. It is indeed quite distressing to see how counter cultural his vision can be in this world.
No matter how challenging this vision may be, one thing Pope Francis sees through this vision is possibility. It’s not an expectation. It’s not anticipation that this is the way things will land some day. It’s a hope that if we can get out of the way of the Holy Spirit, and let Jesus teach us to live this, then maybe we can teach it to others, and something of God will take hold of us in that process. HOW CAN IT NOT….
So what does ’possibility’ may mean for us? For me, it means that as I receive this vision day by day, I learn to incorporate a little more of it in my life. Every saint I read, every spiritual conversation I have, ever scripture passage I reflect on becomes one more step in my process. So, if at any given moment, I feel incapable of living up to such a noble vision, Christ will often come into my life, and say something like, ‘you’re already doing it. Just keep cultivating it’. So instead of the impossibility of this vision, I speak of how some of its dynamics are already at work in all of us, and I celebrate the possibility that I can integrate it even more fully in my love, in my life, with the help of God’s guidance.
This is our reality as spiritual seekers: we will never ‘fully complete’ our journey in that sense, but every day we spend with such a spiritual vision can only make us better human beings along the way.
It’s humbling, but it’s also exciting to know that in our humility, we receive the tools to move forward. We receive the gifts that are there to help us dream of a better world. During this Lenten season, may our journey of fasting and commitment to God and others strengthen our capacity to carry the dreams God has for the world within ourselves.