In this episode, Malcolm and Peter Land discuss the first chapter of Let Us Dream by Pope Francis. This is the second part of a series of episodes. The first episode is here.
Going out to the Margins
Pope Francis calls the Church to go out to the margins. There are many kinds of marginalized people in our world, and Pope Francis says that it is among those who are ignored by the world that God chooses to work. We’ll miss what is happening if we’re not on the margins. We need concrete solidarity with the marginalized, not just emotional solidarity.
To have solidarity with the marginalized, we need to meet people where they are at, whether geographically or mentally. We also need to truly listen to others. We can’t barge in with our own ideas to “rescue” people. Instead, we have to be just as ready to learn as to teach. We should not see the marginalized merely the recipients of our aid, but as actors in their own right.
The life of Matteo Ricci displays this willingness to learn. Ricci was the first Jesuit missionary to China. He adopted the customs of the Chinese and incorporated their traditions and philosophy in his presentation of the Faith.
Peter told the story of how he left the Boston College “bubble” and found reality on service immersion trips. These trips were different than classic “mission trips”; they were not structured toward a particular goal. Rather, they focused on just being available to the people in a marginalized area, being with them and listening to them. A theory of service or of solidarity is not enough. We have to leave our “bubbles” of wealth and privilege and allow ourselves to be challenged by reality.
Dialogue, not Compromise
A compromise is sometimes necessary, but it is not ideal according to Pope Francis. Compromises are always temporary, giving space for discernment to resolve something according to God’s will. If one resists the temptation of an immediate, easy solution, discernment can lead over time to a deeper solution which is not a compromise. This deeper, fuller solution might not be obvious before meeting others where they are. This is important for community life; community members need to hold their differences together and choose the path of discernment, not conflict or compromise, which would merely bury the problem.
The Wrong Kind of Certainty
Pope Francis tells us that we don’t have to have all the answers to make a start. In fact, he tells us that the wrong kind of certainly can be detrimental. We shouldn’t show up to a problem with a blueprint solution all ready. That will preclude the kind of dialogue and discernment discussed above. This eagerness for the wrong sort of certainty is a big problem in our culture. For example, we see it in the way that buildings are designed with no relation to the complexities of their site. We can also see this problem when people take any questioning of their position as an attack.
Don’t Count the Cost
We need to build a society of solidarity, and to do this we need combat the indebtedness which plagues our society. In the Old Testament, God instituted the Jubilee Year to cancel debts. In the political realm, we should search for ways to do the same.
On a personal level, Christian community members need to get rid of the American tendency to keep tabs and scores. We need to be able to give and receive freely, both when exchanging material gifts and in less tangible areas of our lives. We need to cultivate forgiveness and generosity. Since we are only stewards of God’s gifts to us, we shouldn’t feel that other people are indebted to us. As Peter said, we need to drop the attitude in which we think “I lent him twenty bucks. I might not say anything about it, but I’m still waiting for those twenty bucks!”
Where can Community Grow?
Community can’t grow in suburbia, because suburbia is too socially exclusive, and too geographically spread out. City cores are often too expensive. Small town American might offer some advantages. Some American small towns still have the structure which can make them viable, and they are “on the margins”. The question of the best location for a community is difficult to answer.
Moses exemplifies the right attitude toward social renewal. As a young man, he saw the oppression of his people, and tried to remedy the situation by his own power. He failed and fled the country. Much later, God told him to go and set the people of Israel free. Moses seems to have learned something over the years. He told God that he wasn’t strong enough to liberate the people. That didn’t matter, however. Ultimately, Moses wasn’t the one who would free the people. Rather, God worked through him despite his weakness and accomplished great things.
With God’s help, we can accomplish great things. We can be “restorers of the ruins” as it says in Isaiah. At the end of our lives, we want to be able to look back and see that we took the risk and gave everything we had to build the kingdom of God. We always have to remember, though, that God is working through us. It is important to provide the space and time for God’s spirit to work through us. And we have to remember that the Holy Spirit can work through everyone, not just through us.
St. Peter’s Basilica by Vitold Muratov, CC BY-SA 4.0; Let Us Dream Cover image, Fair Use