August 07, 2022

Waiting Mindfully?


Year C, the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Readings at Mass.
Wisdom 18:6-9. Hebrews 11:1-2,8-19. Luke 12:32-48.


The first two of today’s three readings speak of the bold faith of the ancestors of God’s people— faith that God would bring about great blessings for their family tree in time to come.

The old promise of those blessings echoed in today’s Cóllect prayer that we offered right before we sat for the readings.
 
... Father,
bring, we pray, to perfection in our hearts
the spirit of adoption as your sons and daughters,
that we may merit to enter into the inheritance
which you have promised.
 
And then in today’s Gospel, Christ promises that the gift of his Father’s kingdom is for those who keep watch to be worthy of it, since Christ’s return will break in on us without warning.

You and I, with the whole human race, live between the first coming of Christ and his second coming.

Both comings of Christ touch our freedom that stretches between two realities.

The one reality is the original sin of humankind.

The other is the free offer God makes to us in Christ.

God adopted us in Baptism, freely giving us an entitled share in the kingdom of heaven.

Because of Baptism, we no longer bear the guilt of original sin.

God the Father has washed it from us with the Baptismal waters of grace and the Spirit that bear the might and truth of the death and resurrection of his Son.

Although the GUILT of original sin is no longer ours, we are still weak and can still turn away from God with other sins.

Nonetheless, GOD has freed us to be free IN God and free FOR God.

Freedom always brings with it RESPONSIBILITY.

Freedom is ALIVE not in doing merely what we LIKE, but in doing GOOD.

IF freedom meant it were RIGHT for us to do WHATEVER we LIKED, then we would have to accept ANY sin that OTHERS might commit against US in THEIR freedom to do what THEY liked.

On the contrary, TRUE freedom brings with it MORAL RESPONSIBILITY.

Freedom LIVES and GROWS in choosing to do GOOD.

The everlasting fullness of our freedom is in Christ the master, who says in today’s Gospel:
 
Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.
Amen, I say to you, HE will GIRD himself,
HAVE them recline at table, and proceed to WAIT on them.
 
In that outcome, Christ the master will be like fathers and mothers who serve and feed the children they have gladly adopted.

The goodness of Christ is the fulfillment, the perfection, the pattern, and the goal of our human freedom.

To seek and follow CHRIST is to seek and follow FREEDOM.

He tells us in his Gospel today:
 
Gird your loins and light your lamps
and be like servants who await their master’s return...
ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
 
Waiting for Christ in this way means to be mindful in taking responsibility for every free choice we make in how we live and how we think.

Waiting for the Lord is also a way of prayer.

To wait in prayer is to be aware that something needed and good is missing, and that it comes in the person of the Lord.

Sincere prayer also helps and teaches us to live and grow in freedom.

In his Gospel, Christ asks, calls, and bids us be on the lookout for him, to watch for him, to stay awake for him, to hunt and wish for him.

He has sworn that he is always with us and will come back one day.

He is really with us in his Eucharistic Body and Blood.

But his Eucharistic Body and Blood also feed us the mystery of his Second Coming.
 
Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.
 
In his Eucharistic Body and Blood, Christ the master becomes the servant of his servants.

In his Eucharist, even though he comes among us as our servant, he remains both the standard and the judge of our freedom.

As the standard of our freedom, Christ freely hands himself over in his Eucharistic Body and Blood as food and drink for our welfare.

In doing so, he is also already our judge, for he measures us by what we freely dare to receive.

As he says in today’s Gospel:  Much will be required of the person entrusted with much....

When we receive him in his Eucharist, we hand ourselves over to his judgment.

And yet our God and Judge, Almighty-in-His-Love, Innocent and Pure, chose to take a place on earth among the guilty and condemned.

He freely took our guilt upon himself, and freely chose to be condemned as a sinner among us sinners.

The master freely chose to be nailed to a cross of deadly punishment.

God freely chose to die among us guilty sinners.

That is the one who comes as Judge in his Eucharist.

In his Eucharistic Body and Blood, our Judge offers us a covenant ... for the forgiveness of sins, but also a covenant of being WITH US EVEN UNTO DEATH.

He was OBEDIENT to being God-with-us EVEN UNTO DEATH.

And then his RESURRECTION is our human body and soul FREE AND OBEDIENT in the LIFE and GLORY of God.

To say it again:  our RESURRECTION is our human body and soul FREE AND OBEDIENT in the LIFE and GLORY of God.
Christ the Son in his Obedient Body and Blood lets us share in his freedom and glory as sons and daughters of his Father.

Obedience, forgiveness, life, freedom, and glory are in his Body and Blood that call us to turn away from sin and to rise with Christ in his goodness.
 
Gird your loins and light your lamps
and be like servants who await their master’s return...
ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.
 
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

June 09, 2022

He found himself guarding the door at his daughter's elementary school graduation.

Parenting as a Catholic pacifist in an era of mass shootings

Jon M. Sweeney, 9 June 2022, in the magazine, “America: The Jesuit Review”


Only two days after the horrific killing of 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, Tex., I filed into an auditorium to watch my daughter’s elementary school graduation ceremony.

She attends Golda Meir, a public school in downtown Milwaukee, Wis., and the 85 children finishing fifth grade were participating in a “bridging ceremony,” celebrating their move next year across the street to the middle school campus.


Some time before the speeches and the video presentation that paired a contemporary photo of each child’s face beside one of each as toddlers, I found myself lingering near the front door.

In some ways it was just like any other school function throughout the year. Students and parents arrived, masked, and sat down in the auditorium. The latest school shooting was everywhere in the news, but I didn’t hear a word of fear nor a mention of the gun violence in the quiet conversation of people near me. But as we gathered to celebrate this group of school children, those children who died in Texas, who would never make it to their own graduations, were at the forefront of my mind. Surely others felt the same.

My wife and I had arrived early, and from our seats near the front, I kept looking back toward the entrance we had walked through. It occurred to me, Should there be a guard here? And then, Is anyone watching the front door? So I got up and did that.

Admittedly, this is an unusual move for someone who considers himself a pacifist. When I turned 18 and had to register with Selective Service, I did so by writing “Conscientious Objector” on the form. Since then, I have called myself a peacemaker. I have never held a gun and never want to. But I am also a father. So on this day, I found myself leaving my seat to stand near the entrance and eye every guy who walked through the door.

If I’d seen someone with a weapon, I’d have thrown my 195 pounds at him as best I could.

I often feel that it's inevitable: Someday I'll be throwing myself in front of a stream of bullets. Maybe I won’t be called on to throw myself in front of a stream of bullets, but I will need to be ready to do so. The thought occurs to me at synagogue, too, since not only is the tally of mass shootings going up, but so is the hate that fuels them.

I’m a Catholic married to a rabbi, and I see how anti-Semitism is growing. At the synagogue, I keep an eye on the door while services are going on and make a mental note about which metal chair I might pick up to throw at a gun-toting intruder, or from what angle I might rush at him if he has come to get the rabbi.

Ever since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, schools have created safety drills and discussion and training sessions for teachers, staff and students to prepare them to respond to crisis situations involving guns. “Active shooter” has become a phrase known to all. My oldest child was only 6 when the Columbine shooting happened. Our family has grown up in this world.

There is no question that mass shootings are more common at public schools than private ones. I have not read much analysis as to why. And I am not eager to. But the other day I asked a friend whose children attend one of our Milwaukee Catholic schools if he thinks his kids are safer there. He said he thought the small size of the school, along with practical safety measures, created what he felt was a relatively safe environment for his children. His answer spoke to the importance of community in keeping children safe, the vigilance we owe one another at every school.

As a Christian I am told not to fear, and as a pacifist I am told not to defend myself. Just look at the exchange between Jesus and Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26). When the soldiers come to take Jesus away, Peter strikes at one of them with his sword. Clearly, Peter is armed. But Jesus rebukes his friend, the first pope. Put your sword away, Jesus tells him. Do you really believe that is how the will of God is accomplished? The church allows for self-defense. But attacking someone, even someone threatening violence, is not what I have been taught to do as a follower of Jesus and a pacifist. But these commands are getting harder to follow.

A Christian is called to be a martyr, a word that means “witness,” and the examples given by Jesus of martyr-witnesses are those whom we have come to understand as saints. They are people who, when faced with danger or violence, are willing to sacrifice their lives without harming others, even those who try to hurt them. Even from the cross, with violence all around him, Jesus did not fight back. Instead he said, “Father, forgive them.” I want to show forgiveness. I want to respond peacefully. But I also want to keep my eye on the auditorium door.

My wife, the congregational rabbi, is not a Jesus-follower, but she shares my feelings of not wanting guns in religious services, despite the risks religious people face by gathering together. Our local Jewish federation recently provided funding for every synagogue to have an armed guard at high holiday services each fall. My wife accepted the offer but now feels uneasy about it.

There is now a worldly reality that may require armed guards under certain circumstances. In St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, for instance. At the Western Wall in Jerusalem. But the presence of weapons fundamentally changes a space. The result of this capitulation, for me anyway, is that I cannot really pray in those places. Can you really promote a sense of peace by surrounding a place with guns? Does an armed guard make prayer possible, or does an armed guard make a place unholy?

Everyone walking through the door at my daughter’s fifth grade graduation turned out to be a parent, grandparent, sibling or friend. I returned to my seat before the presentations began, and the door to the auditorium remained open. It felt like a risk, but what was I to do, really? Every day at school is now a day when our children are at risk. I will not be there to protect my children 99 percent of the time. But I also know that if I am there, I will not hesitate to lead the charge against an attacker.

As that video presentation rolled, showing the beautiful grinning faces of my daughter and her classmates, I wept quietly in my seat, thinking of those parents who, on that same day, were burying their children in the hot sun.

March 18, 2022

To Pray for Peace and to Consecrate and Entrust Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?

 


Some persons have fashioned a “subreligion” out of the Fatima children’s private revelation messages about Mary.
This cultism, its exaggerations, and its distortions have been and are wildly in conflict with the popes, with authentic Catholic teaching, and even with one of the Fatima children, Sister Lucia.
Catholic teaching is that private revelations do not belong to the deposit of the faith, and so Catholics are free to ignore them.
What to think of Pope Francis inviting the world’s clergy to join him on March 25 in a worldwide prayer for peace and in a “Fatima-style” consecration and entrustment of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
Some distorting exaggerators of cultist Fatimism are already barking that what Pope Francis is doing will be wrong and dangerous.
Catholics are free to ignore the Fatima allusions and connections of the upcoming event.
What will be authentically Catholic is that the event will unite Catholics around the word in praying for peace and justice for Ukraine.

April 13, 2021

ON BEING BLACK WHILE RAISING A CHILD AND STAYING ALIVE

By an Unknown Author

I need to drive my two-year-old to daycare tomorrow morning. To ensure we arrive alive, we won't take public transit (Oscar Grant).
I removed all air fresheners from the vehicle and double-checked my registration status (Daunte Wright),
and ensured my license plates were visible (Lt. Caron Nazario).
I will be careful to follow all traffic rules (Philando Castille),
signal every turn (Sandra Bland),
keep the radio volume low (Jordan Davis),
and won't stop at a fast food chain for a meal (Rayshard Brooks). I'm too afraid to pray (Rev. Clementa C. Pickney)
so I just hope the car won't break down (Corey Jones).

When my wife picks him up at the end of the day, I'll remind her not to dance (Elijah McClain),
stop to play in a park (Tamir Rice),
patronize the local convenience store for snacks (Trayvon Martin),
or walk around the neighborhood (Mike Brown).
Once they are home, we won't stand in our backyard (Stephon Clark),
eat ice cream on the couch (Botham Jean),
or play any video games (Atatiana Jefferson).

After my wife and I tuck him into bed around 7:30pm, neither of us will leave the house to go to Walmart (John Crawford)
or to the gym (Tshyrand Oates)
or on a jog (Ahmaud Arbery).
We won't even walk to see the birds (Christian Cooper).
We'll just sit and try not to breathe (George Floyd)
and not to sleep (Breonna Taylor)."

January 17, 2021

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Politics and the Antichrist


Though we are followers of Christ the King, we Christians still have a responsibility to take part in earthly political processes. However, we must not put our hope in building on the sand of shifting political triumphs or defeats. The Catholic Church teaches that our faithfulness to Christ the King is going to result in our eventual political defeat. We must go forward, but not despair when we suffer political defeat. If we were to despair, it would mean we had put our faith and hope in earthly politics. If we suffer earthly defeat for being genuinely faithful to Christ, then we have triumphed in Christ. Conversely, the only “political” triumph we can count on is the Last Judgment, which will come not by our triumphing in earthly political processes but precisely in the midst of our suffering earthly political defeat.

Many Christians have tried mistakenly to cast this or that political leader in a role that would correspond to the Catechism of the Catholic Church's three paragraphs describing the eventual Antichrist and his coming. Such Christians are examples of the kinds of persons the Antichrist will easily deceive. 

The following is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 675-677.

 

 

The Church’s Ultimate Trial

 

Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.[i] The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth[ii] will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.[iii]

 

The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism,[iv] especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.[v]

 

The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection.[vi] The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven.[vii] God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.[viii]

 

------------------------

 

Footnotes

 

[i]

 

Luke 18:8. “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

 

Matthew 24:12. “Because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.”

 

[ii]

 

Luke 21:12. “But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.”

 

John 15:19-20. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.”

 

[iii]

 

2 Thessalonians 2:3-12. [The man of lawlessness, the son of perdition] opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

 

1 Thessalonians 5:2-3. For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape.

 

2 John 1:7. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.

 

1 John 2:18,22. Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour. …. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.

 

[iv]

 

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in its Decree of 19 July 1944 (DS 3839), says: “In recent times on several occasions this Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office has been asked what must be thought of a system of mitigated millenarianism, which teaches, for example, that Christ the Lord before the final judgment, whether or not preceded by the resurrection of the many just, will come visibly to rule over this world. The answer is: The system of mitigated millenarianism cannot be taught safely.”

 

[v]

 

Pius XI, Divini Redemptoris, condemning the “false mysticism” of this “counterfeit of the redemption of the lowly”.

 

Gaudium et spes, 20-21. In her loyal devotion to God and men, the Church has already repudiated and cannot cease repudiating, sorrowfully but as firmly as possible, those poisonous doctrines and actions which contradict reason and the common experience of humanity, and dethrone man from his native excellence. Still, she strives to detect in the atheistic mind the hidden causes for the denial of God; conscious of how weighty are the questions which atheism raises, and motivated by love for all men, she believes these questions ought to be examined seriously and more profoundly. The Church holds that the recognition of God is in no way hostile to man’s dignity, since this dignity is rooted and perfected in God. For man was made an intelligent and free member of society by God Who created him, but even more important, he is called as a son to commune with God and share in His happiness. She further teaches that a hope related to the end of time does not diminish the importance of intervening duties but rather undergirds the acquittal of them with fresh incentives. By contrast, when a divine instruction and the hope of life eternal are wanting, man’s dignity is most grievously lacerated, as current events often attest; riddles of life and death, of guilt and of grief go unsolved with the frequent result that men succumb to despair. Meanwhile every man remains to himself an unsolved puzzle, however obscurely he may perceive it. For on certain occasions no one can entirely escape the kind of self-questioning mentioned earlier, especially when life’s major events take place. To this questioning only God fully and most certainly provides an answer as He summons man to higher knowledge and humbler probing. The remedy which must be applied to atheism, however, is to be sought in a proper presentation of the Church’s teaching as well as in the integral life of the Church and her members. For it is the function of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit Who renews and purifies her ceaselessly, to make God the Father and His Incarnate Son present and in a sense visible. This result is achieved chiefly by the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one trained to see difficulties clearly and to master them. Many martyrs have given luminous witness to this faith and continue to do so. This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer’s entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating him toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy. What does the most reveal God’s presence, however, is the brotherly charity of the faithful who are united in spirit as they work together for the faith of the Gospel and who prove themselves a sign of unity. While rejecting atheism, root and branch, the Church sincerely professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live; such an ideal cannot be realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue. Hence the Church protests against the distinction which some state authorities make between believers and unbelievers, with prejudice to the fundamental rights of the human person. The Church calls for the active liberty of believers to build up in this world God’s temple too. She courteously invites atheists to examine the Gospel of Christ with an open mind. Above all the Church known that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart when she champions the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot. Far from diminishing man, her message brings to his development light, life and freedom. Apart from this message nothing will avail to fill up the heart of man: “Thou hast made us for Thyself,” O Lord, “and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.”

 

[vi]

 

Revelation 19:1-9. After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; he has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” Once more they cried, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who is seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice crying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”

 

[vii]

 

Revelation 13:8. All who dwell on earth will worship [the beast], every one whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.

 

Revelation 20:7-10. And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations which are at the four corners of the earth, that is, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city; but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

 

Revelation 21:2-4. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

 

[viii]

 

Revelation 20:12. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done.

 

2 Peter 3:12-13. The heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire! But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.






November 27, 2020

Pope Francis: A Crisis Reveals What Is in Our Hearts


To come out of this pandemic better than we went in, we must let ourselves be touched by others’ pain.

 

From "Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future," by Pope Francis

 

In this past year of change, my mind and heart have overflowed with people. People I think of and pray for, and sometimes cry with, people with names and faces, people who died without saying goodbye to those they loved, families in difficulty, even going hungry, because there’s no work.

 

Sometimes, when you think globally, you can be paralyzed: There are so many places of apparently ceaseless conflict; there’s so much suffering and need. I find it helps to focus on concrete situations: You see faces looking for life and love in the reality of each person, of each people. You see hope written in the story of every nation, glorious because it’s a story of daily struggle, of lives broken in self-sacrifice. So rather than overwhelm you, it invites you to ponder and to respond with hope.

 

These are moments in life that can be ripe for change and conversion. Each of us has had our own “stoppage,” or if we haven’t yet, we will someday: illness, the failure of a marriage or a business, some great disappointment or betrayal. As in the Covid-19 lockdown, those moments generate a tension, a crisis that reveals what is in our hearts.

 

In every personal “Covid,” so to speak, in every “stoppage,” what is revealed is what needs to change: our lack of internal freedom, the idols we have been serving, the ideologies we have tried to live by, the relationships we have neglected.

 

When I got really sick at the age of 21, I had my first experience of limit, of pain and loneliness. It changed the way I saw life. For months, I didn’t know who I was or whether I would live or die. The doctors had no idea whether I’d make it either. I remember hugging my mother and saying, “Just tell me if I’m going to die.” I was in the second year of training for the priesthood in the diocesan seminary of Buenos Aires.

 

I remember the date: Aug. 13, 1957. I got taken to a hospital by a prefect who realized mine was not the kind of flu you treat with aspirin. Straightaway they took a liter and a half of water out of my lungs, and I remained there fighting for my life. The following November they operated to take out the upper right lobe of one of the lungs. I have some sense of how people with Covid-19 feel as they struggle to breathe on a ventilator.

 

I remember especially two nurses from this time. One was the senior ward matron, a Dominican sister who had been a teacher in Athens before being sent to Buenos Aires. I learned later that following the first examination by the doctor, after he left she told the nurses to double the dose of medication he had prescribed — basically penicillin and streptomycin — because she knew from experience I was dying. Sister Cornelia Caraglio saved my life. Because of her regular contact with sick people, she understood better than the doctor what they needed, and she had the courage to act on her knowledge.

 

Another nurse, Micaela, did the same when I was in intense pain, secretly prescribing me extra doses of painkillers outside my due times. Cornelia and Micaela are in heaven now, but I’ll always owe them so much. They fought for me to the end, until my eventual recovery. They taught me what it is to use science but also to know when to go beyond it to meet particular needs. And the serious illness I lived through taught me to depend on the goodness and wisdom of others.

 

This theme of helping others has stayed with me these past months. In lockdown I’ve often gone in prayer to those who sought all means to save the lives of others. So many of the nurses, doctors and caregivers paid that price of love, together with priests, and religious and ordinary people whose vocations were service. We return their love by grieving for them and honoring them.

 

Whether or not they were conscious of it, their choice testified to a belief: that it is better to live a shorter life serving others than a longer one resisting that call. That’s why, in many countries, people stood at their windows or on their doorsteps to applaud them in gratitude and awe. They are the saints next door, who have awakened something important in our hearts, making credible once more what we desire to instill by our preaching.

 

They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference. They remind us that our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves, not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service.

 

With some exceptions, governments have made great efforts to put the well-being of their people first, acting decisively to protect health and to save lives. The exceptions have been some governments that shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths, with inevitable, grievous consequences. But most governments acted responsibly, imposing strict measures to contain the outbreak.

 

Yet some groups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions — as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom! Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate.

 

It is all too easy for some to take an idea — in this case, for example, personal freedom — and turn it into an ideology, creating a prism through which they judge everything.

 

The coronavirus crisis may seem special because it affects most of humankind. But it is special only in how visible it is. There are a thousand other crises that are just as dire, but are just far enough from some of us that we can act as if they don’t exist. Think, for example, of the wars scattered across different parts of the world; of the production and trade in weapons; of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing poverty, hunger and lack of opportunity; of climate change. These tragedies may seem distant from us, as part of the daily news that, sadly, fails to move us to change our agendas and priorities. But like the Covid-19 crisis, they affect the whole of humanity.

 

Look at us now: We put on face masks to protect ourselves and others from a virus we can’t see. But what about all those other unseen viruses we need to protect ourselves from? How will we deal with the hidden pandemics of this world, the pandemics of hunger and violence and climate change?

 

If we are to come out of this crisis less selfish than when we went in, we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain. There’s a line in Friedrich Hölderlin’s “Hyperion” that speaks to me, about how the danger that threatens in a crisis is never total; there’s always a way out: “Where the danger is, also grows the saving power.” That’s the genius in the human story: There’s always a way to escape destruction. Where humankind has to act is precisely there, in the threat itself; that’s where the door opens.

 

This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek — and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.

 

God asks us to dare to create something new. We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. We need economies that give to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life: to land, lodging and labor. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that affect their lives. We need to slow down, take stock and design better ways of living together on this earth.

 

The pandemic has exposed the paradox that while we are more connected, we are also more divided. Feverish consumerism breaks the bonds of belonging. It causes us to focus on our self-preservation and makes us anxious. Our fears are exacerbated and exploited by a certain kind of populist politics that seeks power over society. It is hard to build a culture of encounter, in which we meet as people with a shared dignity, within a throwaway culture that regards the well-being of the elderly, the unemployed, the disabled and the unborn as peripheral to our own well-being.

 

To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.