As pilgrims and missionary disciples, we are called to choose compassion over indifference
(Section 2, published Feb. 8, 2018)
"We, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another." — Romans 12:5
As missionary disciples who seek to be more, we know how important it is to share our faith, hope and love with others. From our own encounters with Jesus, we've seen how He leads us to embrace one another just as He has embraced us. This kind of intentional being-together-in-community is called "solidarity."
Our life in the Church testifies to the truth and the importance of solidarity. We never really walk or stand alone. And our Gospel identity as a pilgrim Church — a Church on the way — signals how much of our faith journey involves a deliberate encounter with others. In Pope Francis' words: "True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others." ("Evangelii Gaudium" 88).
This exhortation to encounter one another implies moving closer to those who aren't readily in our circle, both physically and emotionally. It means opening our minds and hearts and giving our time and energy to the lives of others, especially the most poor and vulnerable. At the core of our human encounters is the call to love others as God has loved us — up close and personal.
Lisa Johnston | firstname.lastname@example.org
The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 29-37) illustrates how Jesus summons each one of us to a greater solidarity.
In the story and person of the Good Samaritan, we discover that our faith requires more than simply words or beliefs. It isn't the priest with his faith, nor the Levite with his knowledge of the law, who shows us the path of discipleship. Instead, the Samaritan, the supposed "stranger" who acts with mercy and kindness, shows solidarity with the one he encounters on the way.
In the Good Samaritan, we see that compassion and solidarity mean being with and for others in concrete ways. Through the story, Jesus invites us to imagine ourselves on the road. He asks us to stop and reach out when we behold the brokenness of humanity. How we respond to others in their need for mercy, healing and reconciliation becomes the core of our discipleship. It's the perfect illustration of what St. James says: "So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:17)
Like the priest and the Levite, there are moments when we have turned our gaze away from the hurt, or haven't stopped to tend to it. We can be honest and repent for those times when our actions haven't mirrored God love.
But sometimes we've received that love through others. And sometimes we've given that love to others. We can be thankful for God's grace in those times.
In the Good Samaritan, we recognize a challenge: a call to solidarity. Our faith requires us to be open to others on the way, to be willing to show care and compassion for them. The Good Samaritan also illustrates the need to be courageous in transcending our own class and cultural distinctions in order to show God's love more fully. As pilgrims and missionary disciples, we are called to choose compassion over indifference.
Pope Francis tells us that another essential part of missionary discipleship is encountering those in need with contemplative love. He wrote, "What the Holy Spirit mobilizes is... above all an attentiveness which considers the other 'in a certain sense as one with ourselves.' This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their way of living faith. True love is always contemplative" ("Evangelii Gaudium" 199).
What does this contemplative love mean for us in our daily lives? It means, for example, being fascinated by others. It means wanting to know what they think, how they feel and what they want. It means wanting to know the joys and the hurts in their past, where are they now, and what they hope and fear for the future. It means sharing their joys and sorrows and hopes and fears. It means looking on them the way God looks on us, and sharing their lives the way Jesus shares ours.
Learning to cultivate a contemplative encounter with others takes time and courage. We do it naturally with those closest to us. We need to do it more readily for the poor and vulnerable who are among us, but often go unnoticed.
It isn't easy to leave our familiar surroundings. We may have grown up in a relatively homogeneous social environment or neighborhood that provided limited encounters with others of a different race, ethnicity, political persuasion or socio-economic background. We may have had negative encounters with others that discouraged us from going beyond our personal comfort zones.
Yet we know in faith that we're part of a universal Church. We know that our Catholic faith, life and values are present in every culture and place in the world. In some instances we've been directly exposed to other cultures, ethnicities and languages through the missionary work of the Church. The Archdiocese of St. Louis, for example, has been a missionary community for over fifty years! Through the work of our archdiocesan Mission Office we have been able to share resources with our sisters and brothers in Bolivia and other parts of Latin America. And, in recent years, we have been able to join in the missionary work of the Messengers of Peace in Colombia. We have reached out to our brothers and sisters in faraway places, and learned to behold them with contemplative love.
We've been missionaries at home, too. Each year, through your prayers and generosity, the Annual Catholic Appeal allows archdiocesan ministries and offices to respond to the needs of those in our own backyard. The Appeal supports Catholic Charities, the St. Charles Lwanga Center, the Respect Life Apostolate, Hispanic Ministry the Regina Cleri priest retirement home, and others to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need in our own place and time, and learned to behold them with contemplative love.
But the mission still calls to each of us. Growing in contemplative love isn't only a task for someone else. We're called to see people in need with new eyes. Be fascinated by those you encounter. Desire to know their story. Ask about their lives. Be drawn to where the hurt is, not away from it. A physician or nurse or physical therapist is especially attentive to where the hurt is because that's where their help is most needed. As missionary disciples we need to do that for each other.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis is blessed to have three patron saints — St. Louis IX, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne — who were outstanding examples of responding to the needs of the poor and most vulnerable. Each, in their own way, went beyond the cultural and socio-economic limits of their own upbringing. They crossed physical divides; they crossed social and cultural barriers where many of their contemporaries held back. Our own Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis contains beautiful mosaics depicting their lives of service to those who were poor, excluded and marginalized. I encourage us all to take time to study these beautiful images. They can inspire us to grow in contemplative love.
Solidarity and contemplative love for troubled times
Our patron saints challenge and encourage us: live up to our example. They call us to bring greater solidarity and contemplative love to our own troubled times.
It isn't difficult to see a number of pressing issues and challenges that confront the world today: abortion, euthanasia, secularism, a culture of indifference, a growing social and political polarization, poverty, racism, global migration, religious persecution, violence, human trafficking, domestic violence and other social ills that corrode the inherent dignity of humans.
Locally, we have been challenged by issues rooted in the sin of racism. We have seen our neighborhoods divided by painful and tragic events that have surfaced disappointments, resentments and mistrust between communities and established institutions of leadership and power. But we have also witnessed how our larger community has come together to march, protest, pray and dialogue about practical solutions that can have a positive impact.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the number and magnitude of the challenges. But, in facing the need for reconciliation that still remains, we have to be vigilant and not give into the temptation to grow cynical or isolate ourselves from one another. Rather than spending most of our time and energy bemoaning the problems, might we spend more of our time and energy addressing them? We have a history of troubles that plagues us. We also have a history of leadership that can guide us.
For example, the courageous leadership of Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter shows us the way. He said: "Yes, racism is a heresy, there is no doubt about it. Segregation is a sin, a sin against both justice and charity... We cannot delay longer in this matter no matter how difficult but must face our responsibility as pastors to teach and guide, and thus prepare our people for the full acceptance of the Christian principles that are at the base of many aspects of this problem." His prophetic words and actions still remind us of the work before us, especially as we strive to become more aware of our personal and systemic biases and prejudices.
Lisa Johnston | email@example.comLisa Johnston | firstname.lastname@example.org
We can also find direction in the testimony and actions of Sister Antona Ebo, FSM. Her commitment to the civil rights movement, and her work on behalf of racial justice and reconciliation, continues to be a guiding light for us in the Church and society. Her courageous life and witness continues to inspire our local communities. The annual Sr. Antona Ebo Social Justice Conference helps us learn to be better instruments of racial justice and reconciliation in our parishes and neighborhoods.
My brother bishops in the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) have echoed this clarion call to be agents of transformation and racial reconsolidation. In establishing a new Ad Hoc Committee on Racism, they remind us that the responsibility to address the sin of racism in our Church and society falls on each one of us. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the USCCB, speaking on behalf of the bishops — and of all Catholics — said: "Recent events have exposed the extent to which the sin of racism continues to afflict our nation. The establishment of this new ad hoc committee will be wholly dedicated to engaging the Church and our society to work together in unity to challenge the sin of racism, to listen to persons who are suffering under this sin, and to come together in the love of Christ to know one another as brothers and sisters." With equal measures of honesty and hope in our hearts, we, in the archdiocese, will continue to remain attentive to the suffering that is caused by the terrible sin of racism and its consequences in our community.
For more than forty years, now, our Catholic community and allies have come together to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and gathered to celebrate the Archdiocesan Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice. Let's take this annual event and make it a daily reality — each one of us deepening our commitment to work for racial justice and reconciliation.
May God bless our personal and collective efforts as we strive to be missionary disciples — growing in solidarity and contemplative love to meet the needs of our troubled times.