But in what passes as public discourse, it will keep trying.
So my last post below wondered aloud whether we’re still able to disagree with civil discourse, or not. It was kind of a rhetorical exercise, because the reality has been obvious for a while now, rendering the term ‘civil discourse’ almost quaint.
Since then, we went through what Christians have traditionally known and observed as Holy Week, and Jews the Passover. A time of spiritual reflection and prayer, of sacrifice and service, of shared humanity and salvation history.
But some believers and non-believers alike have either kept one foot in both that realm and the rough cut real world, or kept wholly and entirely flailing in the cultural abyss that gets no one anywhere but falling downward. Time and again, political power brokers have derided the lack of civil discourse and called for it as a new campaign, just after another tragic crime of some sort. And less than a week later it’s back to politically partisan sniping with media as complicit messenger.
On the news consumer level, people go at the messenger and each other in comments sections, or com-boxes, as if words have no meaning or whatever meaning suddenly assigned them for pragmatic purposes, as if there are no consequences for actions which include the act of character assassination or at least denigration. Pope Benedict often warned that modern man lives as if God does not exist, a re-statement of different Psalms decrying people acting ‘as if there is no God’.
Who will stop this?
Pope Francis is among the latest to try. Here are a few of his messages from the holiest days of the liturgical year.
“In the Cross we see the monstrosity of man, when we allow ourselves to be guided by evil; but we also see the immensity of God’s mercy who does not treat us according to our sins, but according to His mercy”. This was the message at the heart of Pope Francis’ brief unscripted address Friday evening as he presided at the traditional “Via Crucis”, or Way of the Cross, service at Rome’s ancient Colosseum.
His scripted messages are already like little darts, targeted at our follies of idolatry (including making our own ideas into false idols, our opinions into little gods, until we’re so turned in on ourselves and ‘self-referential’ we lose side of ‘the other’ and feed into ‘the globalization of indifference’). His unscripted ones seem like deep sighs or sudden impulses that cry out to our shared humanity – shared, he’s quick to claim, by him – to stop and look and see, to listen and hear, to drop what we’re doing and be still, and then maybe notice that the ‘existential peripheries’ to which he urges us to go, to show the face of love to others, might be right in front of us.
However…and this is important to get…the ‘culture of encounter’ he keeps calling us to create, does not mean jumping into the culture of confrontation.
Returning to Galilee, he noted, “means above all to return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey.”
“From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters,” the Pope said, highlighting how “that flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.”
That’s a good place to pause and take a good look at how we’re doing with that, Christian and anyone of goodwill. Are we bringing more heat than light? Do the flames we light ignite joy? Or do they singe and burn, causing distress?
Pope Francis then explained that there is “a more existential ‘Galilee’” in the life of every Christian after baptism, which is “the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission.”
Christians should pay attention. Non-Christians can benefit from a good existential message about recalling the first time they experienced the transcendent, a higher power they knew was not them and beyond them. For all, it’s the first encounter with the power of love and redemption.
Addressing those in attendance, the Roman Pontiff encouraged each to ask themselves: “What is my Galilee? Where is my Galilee? Did it go away or I remember it? Have I forgotten it? Have I gone off on roads and paths which made me forget it?”…
“This is not to go back in time; it is not a kind of nostalgia,” the pontiff clarified, but rather “it is returning to our first love, in order to receive the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the earth.”
Again, encounter the fire and consider what we’re doing with it.
“The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, Love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death,” he preached on April 20.
The Holy Father emphasized the power of God’s “unconditional and faithful love” for every human situation, praying for the many areas of the world suffering from violence or conflicts, and urging Christians to seek paths of peace and reconciliation…
“In every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love: it is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast… “Come and see!”: Love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.”
So now that we’ve celebrated Easter, and the Passover comes to completion, and those who don’t observe but have watched and felt something, whether longing or fulfillment, hope in the face of despair, seeing so many of the world’s believers recall the depths of human trials give them over to the heights of divine triumph and celebrate the mystery and gift of it all…here’s a question.
Have we been changed? Do we want to be? For believers, the Resurrection is the ultimate ‘re-set’. Love finds a way.