All too often, in the busy-ness of life, in the overwhelming gravity of news headlines, immersed in a popular culture that all too often keeps us mired in our worst (and basest) habits and instincts, we let ourselves get robbed of that something more we’re made for.
Toward that, I end my syndicated column this week on the beautiful new movie The Giver (opens Friday) with:
If love is our purpose and destiny, The Giver leaves us wanting nothing less. A movie cannot free us from fear but it can take us out of ourselves and our drowning in overstimulation to see how one “Silent Night” — a self-giving — can change the world. Cherishing the gifts we have been given, seeing them as they are, having faith in something more, sharing in thanksgiving — this is the life The Giver celebrates. It serves as a caution, too. May we never let ourselves be robbed of it.
The please to don’t-be-robbed was directly inspired by Pope Francis, who, on his first Palm Sunday at Holy Father said:
the first word that I wish to say to you: joy! Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst; it is born from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many of them! And in this moment the enemy, the devil, comes, often disguised as an angel, and slyly speaks his word to us. Do not listen to him! Let us follow Jesus! We accompany, we follow Jesus, but above all we know that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joy, this is the hope that we must bring to this world. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let hope be stolen! The hope that Jesus gives us.
And at his moving visit to St. Francis Assisi of the Providence of God Hospital in Rio last summer, Pope Francis said:
To embrace, to embrace — we all have to learn to embrace the one in need, as Saint Francis did. There are so many situations in Brazil, and throughout the world, that require attention, care and love, like the fight against chemical dependency. Often, instead, it is selfishness that prevails in our society. How many “dealers of death” there are that follow the logic of power and money at any cost! The scourge of drug-trafficking, that favors violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires of society as a whole an act of courage. A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America. Rather, it is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future. We all need to look upon one another with the loving eyes of Christ, and to learn to embrace those in need, in order to show our closeness, affection and love.
To embrace someone is not enough, however. We must hold the hand of the one in need, of the one who has fallen into the darkness of dependency perhaps without even knowing how, and we must say to him or her: You can get up, you can stand up. It is difficult, but it is possible if you want to. Dear friends, I wish to say to each of you, but especially to all those others who have not had the courage to embark on our journey: You have to want to stand up; this is the indispensable condition! You will find an outstretched hand ready to help you, but no one is able to stand up in your place. But you are never alone! The Church and so many people are close to you. Look ahead with confidence. Yours is a long and difficult journey, but look ahead, there is “a sure future, set against a different horizon with regard to the illusory enticements of the idols of this world, yet granting new momentum and strength to our daily lives” (Lumen Fidei, 57). To all of you, I repeat: Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! And not only that, but I say to us all: let us not rob others of hope, let us become bearers of hope!
In an August audience he made clear:
Prayer is not time wasted, nor is it time robbed from activities, including apostolic, rather it is exactly the opposite: only if we are able to live in faithful, constant and confident prayer, God Himself will give us strength and ability to live happily and peacefully, overcoming difficulties and bearing witness with courage.
To workers last September, he said:
I have written a few things down for you, but on seeing you these words came to me. I shall give the bishop this written text as if they had been spoken; but I preferred to tell you what welled up from my heart, as I look at you now! You know, it is is easy to say don’t lose hope. But to all, to you all, those who have work and those who don’t, I say “do not let yourself be robbed of hope! Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope!”. Perhaps hope is like embers under the ashes; let us help each other with solidarity, blowing on the ashes to rekindle the flame. But hope carries us onwards. That is not optimism, it is something else. However hope does not belong to any one person, we all create hope! We must sustain hope in everyone, among all of you and among all of us who are far away. Hope is both yours and ours. It is something that belongs to everyone! This is why I am saying to you: “do not let yourselves be robbed of hope!”. But let us be cunning, for the Lord tells us that idols are more clever than we are. The Lord asks us to have the wisdom of serpents and the innocence of doves. Let us acquire this cunning and call things by their proper name. At this time, in our economic system, in our proposed globalized system of life there is an idol at the centre and this is unacceptable! Let us all fight so that there may be men and women, families, all of us at the centre — at least of our own life — so that hope can make headway…. “Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope!”.
In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis wrote:
Pastoral workers can thus fall into a relativism which, whatever their particular style of spirituality or way of thinking, proves even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism. It has to do with the deepest and inmost decisions that shape their way of life. This practical relativism consists in acting as if God did not exist, making decisions as if the poor did not exist, setting goals as if others did not exist, working as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist. It is striking that even some who clearly have solid doctrinal and spiritual convictions frequently fall into a lifestyle which leads to an attachment to financial security, or to a desire for power or human glory at all cost, rather than giving their lives to others in mission. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary enthusiasm!
Deeper into his exhortation, Pope Francis continues:
the biggest threat of all gradually takes shape: “the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness”. A tomb psychology thus develops and slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum. Disillusioned with reality, with the Church and with themselves, they experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like “the most precious of the devil’s potions”. Called to radiate light and communicate life, in the end they are caught up in things that generate only darkness and inner weariness, and slowly consume all zeal for the apostolate. For all this, I repeat: Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of evangelization!
And still later, he wrote:
In some places a spiritual “desertification” has evidently come about, as the result of attempts by some societies to build without God or to eliminate their Christian roots. In those places “the Christian world is becoming sterile, and it is depleting itself like an overexploited ground, which transforms into a desert”. In other countries, violent opposition to Christianity forces Christians to hide their faith in their own beloved homeland. This is another painful kind of desert. But family and the workplace can also be a parched place where faith nonetheless has to be preserved and communicated. Yet “it is starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive”. In these situations we are called to be living sources of water from which others can drink. At times, this becomes a heavy cross, but it was from the cross, from his pierced side, that our Lord gave himself to us as a source of living water. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope!
Don’t forget about community, he said, also in Evangelii Gaudium:
There indeed we find true healing, since the way to relate to others which truly heals instead of debilitating us, is a mystical fraternity, a contemplative fraternity. It is a fraternal love capable of seeing the sacred grandeur of our neighbor, of finding God in every human being, of tolerating the nuisances of life in common by clinging to the love of God, of opening the heart to divine love and seeking the happiness of others just as their heavenly Father does. Here and now, especially where we are a “little flock” (Lk 12:32), the Lord’s disciples are called to live as a community which is the salt of the earth and the light of the world (cf. Mt5:13-16). We are called to bear witness to a constantly new way of living together in fidelity to the Gospel. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of community!
Beware worldliness, still in The Joy of the Gospel:
Those who have fallen into this worldliness look on from above and afar, they reject the prophecy of their brothers and sisters, they discredit those who raise questions, they constantly point out the mistakes of others and they are obsessed by appearances. Their hearts are open only to the limited horizon of their own immanence and interests, and as a consequence they neither learn from their sins nor are they genuinely open to forgiveness. This is a tremendous corruption disguised as a good. We need to avoid it by making the Church constantly go out from herself, keeping her mission focused on Jesus Christ, and her commitment to the poor. God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings! This stifling worldliness can only be healed by breathing in the pure air of the Holy Spirit who frees us from self-centeredness cloaked in an outward religiosity bereft of God. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the Gospel!
Got fraternal love? Pope Francis continued:
Let us ask the Lord to help us understand the law of love. How good it is to have this law! How much good it does us to love one another, in spite of everything. Yes, in spite of everything! Saint Paul’s exhortation is directed to each of us: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). And again: “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right” (Gal 6:9). We all have our likes and dislikes, and perhaps at this very moment we are angry with someone. At least let us say to the Lord: “Lord, I am angry with this person, with that person. I pray to you for him and for her”. To pray for a person with whom I am irritated is a beautiful step forward in love, and an act of evangelization. Let us do it today! Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the ideal of fraternal love!
And, finally, from The Joy of the Gospel:
Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigor!
Speaking of missionary vigor: For World Mission Day, Pope Francis’s statement included:
Let us not be robbed of the joy of evangelization! I invite you to immerse yourself in the joy of the Gospel and nurture a love that can light up your vocation and your mission. I urge each of you to recall, as if you were making an interior pilgrimage, that “first love” with which the Lord Jesus Christ warmed your heart, not for the sake of nostalgia but in order to persevere in joy. The Lord’s disciples persevere in joy when they sense his presence, do his will and share with others their faith, hope and evangelical charity.
In Calabria earlier this year, Pope Francis preached:
I encourage all to witness practical solidarity with your brothers, especially those who most need justice, hope and tenderness. Thank God, there are many signs of hope in your families, parishes, associations and ecclesial movements. The Lord Jesus does not cease to inspire acts of charity in his people who journey! The Policoro Project is a concrete sign of hope for young people who want to get in the game and create work possibilities for themselves and for others. You, dear young people, do not let yourselves to be robbed of hope! Adoring Jesus in your hears and remaining united to him you will know how to oppose evil, injustice, violence with the force of good, truth and beauty.
Earlier this summer, he said at a shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows:
the human heart aspires to great things, to important values, to profound friendships, bonds that are strengthened rather than broken by the trials of life. Human beings aspire to be loved, and to be loved definitively. Do not let yourselves be robbed of the desire to construct great and solid things in your lives! Do not be satisfied with half-measures! Aspire to happiness, have the courage to come out of yourselves, to play out fully your future together with Jesus”.
Meriam Ibrahim, who recently escaped Sudan where she had refused to renounce her faith in Christ and was facing death for it, and Iraqi Christians fleeing their homeland for the same, remind us that Christ is who we are, who are called to be — our very identity. He died for us! Men and women throughout the world throughout history and even today are willing to die for Him! And yet, with challenges to our religious freedom in our midst even here at home, how many of us even pay attention?
Called yesterday by the first reading from Paul to the Romans (9:1-5) to join our consciences with the Holy Spirit and in Matthew’s Gospel (14:22-33) to “Take courage” and follow Christ already — to quit being of little faith — consider what it is we rob ourselves and the world of when we are of little faith, when we compartmentalize our faith, when we live our lives as if Christ were a mere hobby rather than the Savior of the world.