Some things in life happen automatically. No need to study or practice. Your heart beats 72 times a minute without one thought from you. Your lungs fill over and over every minute, your stomach knows just what to do with those eggs you had for breakfast.
There are other things that happen only when someone teaches us. Walking, speaking (“say Mom-ma.”), riding a bike, writing your name; all require someone to show us how it’s done.
And then there are the really important things that if we fail to learn them, we can end up living lonely, selfish, mean little lives. Things like manners, respect, hard work, loyalty, honesty, generosity, etc. These things don’t come naturally. We have to learn them.
This is the job of parents and family; to teach the things that humans must learn to live good lives. Yet, like never before, the family is under many pressures that afflict its ability to pass on these values. Absent fathers, crippling poverty, time away from family (working two and three jobs), the retreat into the internet and social media, all contribute to weakening the learning atmosphere in the family.
Add to this the fact that dysfunction can increase generation by generation. Someone who was never taught patience or forgiveness or respect for others is not likely to give those lessons to their children. You can’t give what you don’t have. And so crude or careless behavior becomes the norm.
So what are we to do? Some choose to throw their hands up and condemn a “world gone crazy”. Some attempt to retreat from the world to live “private lives” untouched by society and its troubles. These are attractive options.
Pope Francis points us in a different direction. He calls on people of Christian Faith to “go out to the fringes” of our society.
To walk with people who do not know the hope we have; who don’t know the love of God given to us in Christ. He encourages us not to fear the darkness of other people’s lives; but at the same time we ought never doubt the light we carry by our union with Jesus.
Francis uses graphic images to convey what happens when we walk with those who are lost. He says we begin to smell like them. I think he means we start to recognize that we share in the same imperfections as our neighbor. (It’s sort of like getting a “Brooklyn” accent when you’ve spent some time there. Howyadoin?!”) He tells of a church, the Bride of Christ, who has “dirty feet” from walking the muddy paths of people lost and searching.
What does this mean on a practical level?
++ It means first of all – – – don’t be afraid. Christ has won the victory over sin and darkness. Seek him daily in prayer.
++ It means never give up. Your efforts for goodness and truth have Christ as their guarantor. It may mean we suffer the sufferings of Christ but so too will we rejoice (here or there) in his victory (Romans 8:17).
++ It means participate in the political deliberations and debates in our country and local community in an informed and helpful way.
++ It means educating ourselves and voicing our opinions about public schooling, social help for the poor, aid to families in need.
++ It means listening to the whisper of God in your conscience and doing what you are able, by God’s grace, at that moment.
++ Don’t go racing around trying to save the world. Jesus has already done that. Trust God to keep you in the moment he wants for you. Life and its opportunities to bring Christ’s light will come to you. Pray to be ready.
++ It means do your part. The rest is up to God. (They say Pope John XXIII retired for the night, telling God, “It’s your Church; I’m going to bed.”)
Finally Spring!! Yay!