Third in a series
My guess is that many during this pandemic are eagerly looking toward a future when the pandemic is under control. The quicker, the better! During the pandemic, my own experience has included a mixture of reflecting on memories and imagining a future when my life will resume some semblance to my previous experience.
Re-reading the Pope’s encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” and his new book “Let Us Dream Together: the Path to a Better Future” has been a wonderful experience for me, a very challenging experience. Among the many messages I have drawn from these recent writings of the Holy Father is that returning to “business as usual” would be a big mistake. Pope Francis stresses this point: returning to the way things were before the pandemic would indicate that we have learned little if anything from the pandemic’s experience. The pope wants us to build a better world when the pandemic is under control. Each of us can play a role in making that better world. None of us should think that we have nothing to contribute. If we are receptive, the Holy Spirit will guide us to use whatever talents and insights we have.
Reading Pope Francis’ excellent and challenging insights has motivated me to think seriously about what I have learned about myself during the pandemic and how will that new knowledge influence me after the pandemic is under control. I hope that my life and the lives of many others will be much better than before the pandemic. I often think about my Christian belief that God can draw good out of everything, even the experience of a pandemic. Saint Paul claimed that for those who love God, all things work together unto good. I believe that.
Early in “Fratelli tutti” Pope Francis writes the following:
“It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity between all men and women. Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation … We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together … By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together. Let us dream then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.” (pp. 10-11)
Difficult as I find it to do, I try to take the Holy Father’s words to heart and resolve that this pandemic is an opportunity for growth, for my own growth, and the development of others. I would never have chosen a pandemic as an opportunity for growth, but by cooperating with God, this is what the pandemic can become for me and others. In paragraph 20, in a discussion of the danger of discarding people, the Holy Father writes the following:
“…a readiness to discard others finds expression in vicious attitudes that we thought long past, such as racism, which retreats underground only to keep reemerging. Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think.” (p.17)
Back in the early 1960s, I went on the March to Washington with Martin Luther King. It was a great experience until several of us stopped on the way home to have lunch in Baltimore only to discover that the restaurant would not serve Blacks. How naïve I was! Before stopping for lunch, I thought that this great day would end racism in America. Now we see more clearly that there is systematic racism in our country.
Having read Pope Francis’ encyclical and his new book, I am asking myself what I am doing to battle racism and what can I do when the pandemic is defeated. I don’t think that I am a racist, but is not being racist enough? Pope Francis is calling us to action. What can I do in the courses I teach at St. John’s University to combat racism? What can I do in the columns I write to combat racism? If I write another book, how will that combat racism? I think the pope’s dream for the future is profoundly beautiful. I agree with his vision, and I want to be part of his dream.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.