My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment. How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” [Jeremiah 4:19-22]
I’ve mentioned before that I supplement my Scripture reading with an additional devotional or two. During this Lenten season I have added to my list the latest encyclical from Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship.
It’s been published in several editions. I prefer the one by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division because it includes discussion questions which make for a great Bible study resource if anyone is interested. I’m not trying to sell books. The Vatican can do that well enough on its own. But I feel that often the reader can benefit from a version of the publication with some extra stimulation and guidance.
The Holy Father reflects on a variety of topics, but primarily, the idea of solidarity and friendship. He calls on us to see the face of Jesus in everybody and recognize each other as a sister or brother. Francis opens the third chapter of his letter with these words:
Human beings are so made that they cannot live, develop, and find fulfillment except “in the sincere gift of self to others.” Nor can they fully know themselves apart from an encounter with other persons: “I communicate effectively with myself only insofar as I communicate with others.” No one can experience the true beauty of life without relating to others, without having real faces to love. This is part of the mystery of authentic human existence. “Life exists where there is bonding, communion, fraternity; and life is stronger than death when it is built on true relationships and bonds of fidelity. On the contrary, there is no life when we claim to be self-sufficient and live as islands: in these attitudes, death prevails.” [§ 87]Pope Francis, The Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti: on Fraternity and Social Friendship; Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2020, p. 57
Obviously, this is not a new, nor ground-breaking idea. From the very beginning of time, we have been advised that the key to our existence is in relationship. For example, in Genesis, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” [Gen. 2:18]
We most often hear this verse quoted at weddings, but God isn’t simply talking about marriage here. We were created to be social beings.
The people in South Africa have a word for it. It is Ubuntu. Loosely translated, it means, “I am what I am because of who we all are”
The image of community is one of interconnectedness. But that is easier said than done. Interconnectedness is challenged at nearly every turn these days. Whether we are talking about what happens at home, at work, with our friends or relatives, politics, society in general; dealing with our harsh attitudes toward others, and our overly critical nature, and the lack of sympathetic understanding, and the need to seek reconciliation with those with whom we have fallen out; it is all a bit overwhelming and humiliating and hard work. We are so deeply divided that often violence becomes a more common response to conflict.
I don’t need to add that the pandemic has injected another layer of hostility to the discord. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, ordering someone to wear a mask is not a violation of anyone’s individual rights, but rather, a way to care for each other by protecting each other from infection.
As people of God, we are called to be better than that. Each of us exists only as an extension of God’s mission. Obviously, we fall far short. That is the pain that grieves God in our reading today from the prophet Jeremiah.
Even though the breakdown between God and us has been our doing, Jesus took that costly first step towards us, leaving the glory of heaven and sacrificing his life on the cross so that we might be reconciled to God!
And he still comes to us today reminding us of his love for us, forgiving us for all of our sin and reclaiming us as his children and members of his kingdom.
Lent can be a time of great opportunity for each one of us as individuals and for the entire Christian community to witness, by having respect for one another, a respect rooted in the love that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, calls us to follow.
Jesus asks us to consider a world in which people can live freely because Jesus offers us the means to live freely. The mission of Jesus is and should be the foundation that shapes us. Just as we have received the generous and lavish love of God in our lives, may God grant us the desire and the means to show that same love to others.
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