Eighth in a series
IN HIS APOSTOLIC exhortation “Rejoice and Be Glad” Pope Francis comments on the Beatitudes.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” seem especially insightful. Perhaps I find them so interesting and inspiring because the Holy Father discusses some topics that I have been thinking about lately.
Pope Francis writes the following as he contrasts the view of suffering which many have in the contemporary world with the view Christians can have because of Christ:
“The world tells us exactly the opposite: entertainment, pleasure, diversion and escape make for the good life. The worldly person ignores problems of sickness or sorrow in the family or all around him, he averts his gaze. The world has no desire to mourn; it would rather disregard painful situations, cover them up or hide them. Much energy is extended on fleeing from situations of suffering in the belief that reality can be concealed. But the cross can never be absent.
“A person who sees things as they truly are and sympathizes with pain and sorrow is capable of touching life’s depths and finding authentic happiness. He or she is consoled, not by the world but by Jesus. Such persons are unafraid to share in the suffering of others; they don’t flee from painful situations. They discover the meaning of life by coming to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief….They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes.”Re-reading the Exhortation leads me to believe that Pope Francis is an enormously sensitive human being. I think that what he writes comes from his own experience and his closeness to God.
Of course Pope Francis is not suggesting that we look for suffering but he is urging us to look at suffering as part of human life and also to look at it under the illumination offered by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
I am thinking of people I know who are very compassionate. They are very attractive people. They seem to be able to enter into the human mystery more deeply than the rest of us. They really are capable of sharing the suffering of others. Their reaction to the suffering of others is not an act, but springs from a genuine concern and ultimately from a real love. Their sharing seems to have the power, to some extent, to heal those who are suffering. The Holy Father is correct in pointing out that such persons don’t flee from painful situations but rather come to understand life more profoundly.
Recently I have been preoccupied by what I consider a serious problem in the Catholic Church. The problem is the absence from Sunday Eucharist of a large portion of the Catholic population. The group that I am thinking of would be those from late teens to early 30s. I have not done any kind of a survey but have observed the absence. I am determined to understand this problem better and to do what I can to remedy it.
The reason I am relating this problem to Pope Francis’ comments on suffering is an experience I recently had at a family party. As the party wound down I noticed that I was in a room with six or seven people in their 20s who I suspected no longer attended the Sunday Eucharist. I told them of my interest and asked if they could enlighten me about their absence from the Eucharis. One said that he was not sure he believed in God. Everyone else offered reasons ranging from poor singing, lengthy homilies and no experience of community. I ended the discussion by asking if Jesus appeared and announced that he would once again offer the Last Supper would they attend. They laughed and of course said they would attend. I then said “That is what we believe happens at a Eucharist.”
I am trying to figure out why the problems they experience at a Sunday Eucharist cannot be transcended by their faith. After the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, churches were packed. I am not suggesting that we need another tragedy. God forbid! I do think we need the attitude that we had after the experience of that tragedy. We saw deeply way how precarious life is, how fragile we are, how our lives can change in a moment, how much all of us need God. I think this is what Francis sees about suffering and compassion. They can take us to a new level of living. Through them we can appreciate Jesus’ death and resurrection in a new way. When linked to our faith in Jesus death and resurrection they can actually lead to a profound joy. They can also deepen our appreciation of the Eucharist.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his 24-part lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.