“Together We Can!” This is a mantra that we hear over and over these days in trying to overcome the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has overtaken, for all practical purposes the whole world. Each of us is called upon to do whatever is possible to protect ourselves from exposure to this extremely invasive virus that has hospitalized so many and killed a good proportion of the infected. We wash our hands with soap and hot water, we scrub the surfaces and doorknobs in our homes, we cover our mouths when we cough, we have learned what it means to “socially distance,” and now more than ever we even wear masks whenever we are outside.
But the message that is touted in the social media, on radio and television, in advertisements and news media is that we do all this not only for ourselves but to protect others. In our world of individualism, we are so used to doing things primarily for “me.” I want to go outside, so I’m going to do so no matter what anyone else thinks. I want to get a promotion at work, so I will do whatever it takes to try to show my boss that I should get it, even if it means that I run roughshod over others in the process. I want to make the team, so I will try harder than anyone else to get chosen, even perhaps to putting someone else down so that I might seem better. COVID-19 is teaching us that community awareness and concern is absolutely necessary if we are going to survive its ravages. Unless we learn this lesson in a new way, we will fail.
Division instead of unity so often is the context of life today. I’m talking about division, not difference of opinion or a diversity of approaches. Angry polarization pervades too many conversations these days, from social media to cable news to family dinner tables. Catholics are not exempt from this, of course. In fact, sometimes we seem to revel in it. Just like everyone else, we too often act like members of political factions fighting for preferred ideological agendas rather than members of a family of faith.
Yet we know that we are called to live our Catholic faith and share the moral principles at its heart—the protection of human life, care for the poor and vulnerable, respect for the dignity of all—with those around us, to love one another as Jesus loves us. And in these challenging times for our Church and our country, it is more important than ever to bring Catholic teachings to public life with humility and love, and to work for the common good together as a communion of faith.
Recognizing the costs of unnecessary and harmful polarization, the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. a while ago brought together some 100 emerging and established leaders from different political, ecclesial, racial and ethnic perspectives to explore how Catholic social thought can help bridge divides so that we can more effectively work together to advance the common good amid the divisiveness we see all around us.
The goals were not to resolve differences on specific issues but to start genuine productive dialogues, to build relationships across existing divides, and to lift up the principles of Catholic social thought as avenues to help shape a more faithful and unified contribution to public life. The group was responding to Pope Francis’ challenge “to look outward, not inward; to share the joy of the Gospel, and to act on the “call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities.” In the process, they learned some important lessons about how to reduce polarization and build up a more effective public witness.
- Keep prayer and sacraments front and center. We can come from different perspectives, but we need to be able to gather to worship as one body.
- Work for authentic dialogue rooted in truth and love, not a false peace. We need to find ways to hold fast to principle without creating unnecessary division. We are to seek unity by focusing on the beliefs we share and the people we are called to serve rather than on ourselves and our tired internal disagreements.
- Build relationships in person and across divides. Sharing meals together goes a long way toward humanizing people who otherwise might know each other only through comments made on social media. What unites us is much more than what divides us, and that’s something best learned face to face, not by reading words on a computer screen.
- Serve “the least of these,” in many situations, e.g., assisting migrants at the southern border. When they come, they say “Help me!” There is no polarization when it comes to answering that call when you go out of your way to do what you can to help and to be present because it is Jesus Christ himself calling you forward.
To renew efforts toward unity and communion, we should remember that a true conversion of heart must be at the root of our response for real changes to be effective. Pope Francis has reminded us repeatedly that a unified path forward must grow from a “clear and decisive focus” on our Gospel mission, grounded in the understanding that “we are not solitary pilgrims; ‘if one member suffers, all suffer together.’” From such roots, concrete reforms can take hold.
We are members of a wounded Church in a wounded nation. But we know who can heal these wounds. We know that we can help overcome harmful divisions by witnessing to the Church’s teachings in what we say and what we do. Most of all, we know that “we are not solitary pilgrims”; we are in this together. The next time you are listening to a report about the details of the COVID-19 pandemic, remember that it is not just a civic responsibility to work together for the good of all, but it is also who we are as followers of the Risen Christ Jesus.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
In the First Reading, Peter addresses the crowd by professing, “God has made both Lord and Christ this Jesus whom you crucified.” His hearers respond to Peter’s challenge to acknowledge the risen Lord by accepting his message and being baptized.
Our Second Reading, from the First Letter of Peter, is a true gem. By encountering the Risen Christ, we experience the true meaning of the mystery of suffering. Though innocent, Jesus suffered willingly for us. In like manner, we should embrace suffering: “If you are patient, when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called.”
We are most familiar with images referring to Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life or the Good Shepherd, but in today’s Gospel, Jesus uses the image of “gatekeeping.” Jesus begins with a parable about a gatekeeper who knows Jesus and opens the gate for the sheep to enter the sheepfold. Since the sheep are familiar with Jesus’ voice, they trust him and follow wherever he leads.
Jesus tells the parable explicitly for the Pharisees to identify his role as leader of God’s people. When the Pharisees fail to understand Jesus’ message, he becomes more direct: “I am the gate for the sheep.” As the gate, Jesus offers safety as well as freedom on the path to salvation. This image opens a richness for reflection. As the gate, Jesus offers access to what nourishes and protects from harm. The Risen Lord sustains us in our journey, accompanying us as we move toward the Father. Jesus ends with words expressing his mission: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
In the Gospel, Jesus explains that the only way to the Father is through him. “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture,” he says. The National Directory for Catechesis, I, instructs that “Jesus Christ is the energizing center of evangelization and the heart of catechesis. He is ‘the way and the truth and the life’ (Jn 14:6).”
Jesus describes himself in the Gospel as a shepherd, whose voice his followers recognize. Lumen gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) notes that in the Old Testament “the revelation of Kingdom is often conveyed by means of metaphors. In the same way the inner nature of the Church is now made known to us in different images taken from either tending sheep or cultivating the land. The Church is a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ” (#6).
For Your Reflection: When have you found comfort in the description of the Lord as a shepherd, always at your side? How has someone been a model of grace for you during suffering? What do you need to do to set aside time to listen to God’s voice?
WORLD DAY OF PRAYER FOR VOCATIONS
Every year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter—also known as Good Shepherd Sunday—we pray in a special way for vocations. Often we think of Vocations as only those who are called to the priesthood, deaconate or religious life, but we really should think much more broadly to realize that everyone has a vocation, a calling to a specific way of life. That is true just as much for those who are married, those who have chosen to remain single, and all people who have a specific career or occupation. We believe that God knows us well and invites each of us to a particular state in life. We may often think only in terms that such a call is merely ours alone to make, but in our Christian perspective it is a matter of trying to remain open to doing so with the discernment of listening carefully to the inspiration of God as we follow through with the direction of our lives.
Each year Pope Francis writes a special letter on this theme, from which I offer a few paragraphs for your consideration and reflection:
“After the multiplication of the loaves, which had astonished the crowds, Jesus told his disciples to get into the boat and precede him to the other shore, while he took leave of the people. The image of the disciples crossing the lake can evoke our own life’s journey. Indeed, the boat of our lives slowly advances, restlessly looking for a safe haven and prepared to face the perils and promises of the sea, yet at the same time trusting that the helmsman will ultimately keep us on the right course. At times, though, the boat can drift off course, misled by mirages, not the lighthouse that leads it home, and be tossed by the tempests of difficulty, doubt and fear.
“Something similar takes place in the hearts of those who, called to follow the Teacher of Nazareth, have to undertake a crossing and abandon their own security to become the Lord’s disciples. The risk involved is real: the night falls, the headwinds howl, the boat is tossed by the waves, and fear of failure, of not being up to the call threaten to overwhelm them.
“The Gospel, however, tells us that in the midst of this challenging journey we are not alone. Like the first ray of dawn in the heart of the night, the Lord comes walking on the troubled waters to join the disciples; he invites Peter to come to him on the waves, saves him when he sees him sinking and, once in the boat, makes the winds die down….
“As we live out our specific vocation, those headwinds can wear us down. Here I think of all those who have important responsibilities in civil society, spouses whom I like to refer to—not without reason—as ‘courageous,’ and in a particular way those who have embraced the consecrated life or the priesthood. I am conscious of your hard work, the sense of isolation that can at times weigh down your hearts, the risk of falling into a rut that can gradually make the ardent flame of our vocation die down, the burden of the uncertainty and insecurity of the times, and worry about the future. Take heart, do not be afraid! Jesus is at our side, and if we acknowledge him as the one Lord of our lives, he will stretch out his hand, take hold of us and save us.”
So let us search, let us listen, let us quietly reflect and let us put all our trust in Him, who died and rose to be with us at every moment of every day.
MEMORIAL OF SAINT CATHARINE OF BOLOGNA
Saturday, May 9, 2020
Some Franciscan saints led fairly public lives; Catharine represents the saints who served the Lord in obscurity. Born in Bologna, Catharine was related to the nobility in Ferrara and was educated at court there. She received a liberal education at the court and developed some interest and talent in painting. In later years as a Poor Clare, Catharine sometimes did manuscript illumination and also painted miniatures.
At the age of 17, she joined a group of religious women in Ferrara. Four years later, the whole group joined the Poor Clares in that city. Jobs as convent baker and portress preceded her selection as novice mistress.
In 1456 she and 15 other sisters were sent to establish a Poor Clare monastery in Florence. As abbess, Catharine worked to preserve the peace of the new community. Her reputation for holiness drew many young women to the Poor Clare life. She was canonized in 1712.
Appreciating Catharine’s life in a Poor Clare monastery may be hard for us. “It seems like such a waste,” we may be tempted to say. Through prayer, penance, and charity to her sisters, Catharine drew close to God. Our goal is the same as hers, even if our paths are different.
A PRAYER FOR PERSEVERANCE
Lord, it has seemed endless that we have been fighting this Coronavirus and all its complications. We have seen so many of our brothers and sisters both here at home and around the world get deathly sick and many dying from this illness. We have been cooped up inside our homes for almost two months now, and we so much want to get back to what we thought of as “normal.” Give me patience and understanding, help me to be sensitive to the needs of others, especially of those with whom I live, and give me a loving heart for those who are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet. Continue to bless and protect all those who are putting their own lives in danger that the rest of us might live in safety. Lord, be at my side amidst all this uncertainty. You are my strength, my hope and my love. Amen.
A CHUCKLE FOR THE EASTER SEASON
An elderly woman had just returned to her home from an evening of Church services when she was startled by an intruder. She caught the man in the act of robbing her home of its valuables and yelled, “Stop! Acts 2:38!” (Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.)
The burglar stopped in his tracks. The woman calmly called the police and explained what she had done. As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar, “Why did you just stand there?
“Scripture?” replied the burglar. “She said she had an Ax and Two 38’s!”