LET US DREAM
A VIRTUAL RETREAT WITH POPE FRANCIS
DAY 1: A TIME TO SEE
By Cliff Garvey
You have to open your eyes and let the suffering around you touch you, so that you hear the Spirit of God speaking to you from the margins. — Pope Francis
During some of the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis was at work on a new book with his friend and collaborator, Austen Ivereigh. The book is called: Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. Let Us Dream is a call to see: to step back and look around; to recognize what’s happening in the world and to the world; and to appreciate the implications of these truly troubled times. Let Us Dream is a call to choose: to open our hearts and minds; to discern the difference between the dark voices and better angels of our time; and to focus on the common good, not narrow ideologies or special interests. Let Us Dream is a call to act: to recover our common memory; to unite around common principles; to put people first in concrete and practical ways that promote and protect the dignity of every human life and the dignity of planet earth, our common home.
Finally, Let Us Dream is a call to heal. Saint Francis of Assisi once said: “This is our vocation: to heal wounds, to bind what is broken, and to bring home those who are lost.” It is long past time for us, all of us, to adopt this mission as our own: to do our poor part, in our small corner of the world, to be instruments of God’s peace and healing in our families, parishes, workplaces, and neighborhoods. It is long past time to heal our divided country, our wounded church, and our suffering world. But before we can make good choices, act on those choices, and heal ourselves and our planet, we need to open our eyes…and see.
Pope Francis says: “We need to slow down, take stock, and design better ways of living together on this earth (page 6).” So, let’s look around, check the facts, and see the world as it really is. To do this is to go to the edge, to the margins of society, to the peripheries of human existence. The Holy Father says: “You have to go to the edges of existence if you want to see the world as it is…You have to make for the margins to find a new future (page 11).” The edges of existence may be located in a faraway land, in a nearby big city, or in our own backyard. The edges of existence are anywhere we see a friend, family member, neighbor, or complete stranger in need of a kind word, a helping hand, a hot meal, or a warm welcome. The edges of existence are anywhere we see real people, flesh and blood, working hard to make ends meet, coping with sickness and suffering, weeping in grief and loneliness, and longing for acceptance and understanding.
Pope Francis also says: “The abstract paralyzes, but focusing on the concrete opens up possible paths (page 12).” What is the difference between the abstract and the concrete? To speak about the homeless can be an abstraction. But to help the veteran without a place to live, who needs warm socks and new shoes, is concrete. That vet is real. And he needs our help. To speak about the poor can be an abstraction. But to help the single parent who needs daycare, health care, or just help with daily chores is concrete. That parent is real. And she needs our help.
The pope says: “We are born, beloved creatures of our Creator, God of love, into a world that has lived long before us. We belong to God and to one another, and we are part of creation. And from this understanding, grasped by the heart, must flow our love for each other, a love not earned or bought because all we are and have is unearned gift (page 13).” As people of faith, we believe that God created heaven and earth; and that God created each one of us in his image and likeness. We must then believe the concrete fact that we are all children of God. We must then believe the concrete truth that we are all brothers and sisters; that we are all part of the same family. We must then believe the concrete reality that we belong to each other…that we need each other. But what do we hear instead? What do we hear from a world seemingly gone mad? We hear dark voices that preach greed, anger, and resentment. We hear dark voices that preach conspiracy theories, half-truths, and big lies. We hear dark voices that whisper the “myth of self sufficiency (page 14)” and abstract excuses that give birth to narcissism, pessimism, and discouragement (cf. page 16).
Pope Francis says: “Open your eyes and let the suffering around you touch you, so that you hear the Spirit of God speaking to you from the margins (page 15).” An example of those among us who open their eyes, look concrete realities in the face, and respond with love, are health care workers. In Let Us Dream, Pope Francis says this about health care workers during the pandemic: “What a sign of contradiction to the virus of indifference…They remind us that our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves: not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service (page 13).” Doctors, nurses, and first responders. Custodians, technicians, and food service workers. The Holy Father calls them the “saints next door (page 13)” and the “antibodies to the virus of indifference (page 13).”
In concrete ways that we can see with open eyes, health care professionals reveal the better angels of the human experience. For all the world to see, they give life witness to hard work, dedication, generosity, and love of neighbor. They show us how to go the extra mile, to love without counting costs, and to give without judgment or reservation. They reveal to us the face of God. Pope Francis says: “The essence of God is mercy, which is not just seeing and being moved but responding with action. God knows, feels, and comes running out to look for us. He doesn’t just wait. Whenever in the world you have a response that is immediate, close, warm, and concerned, offering a response, that’s where God’s Spirit is present (page 19).”
In Let Us Dream, Pope Francis asks us to open our eyes, see the world as it is, and consider ways to respond that give voice and witness to God’s presence in our lives. The pope asks us to see that a cell phone or zoom session can never meet the needs of the human heart. He says: “No media can satisfy the human soul’s desire for direct contact with those they love and with reality; and nothing can substitute for engaging directly with the complexity of other people’s experiences (page 23).”
Pope Francis beckons us to see that the elites who lead corporations, governments, and even the Church can spread a “cancer” that ignores the basic needs of everyday people (cf. page 25). He says: “The sins of the powerful are almost always sins of entitlement, committed by people whose lack of shame and brazen arrogance are stunning (page 25).”
Pope Francis begs us to see that we will never again be healthy on a planet that is so sick. He begs us to see that our greed and refusal to place limits on growth, consumption, and development, is a form of sin. And it is this ecological sinfulness that is destroying our health and the health of our planet. He says: “Sin always has the same root of possessiveness, of enrichment at the expense of other people and of creation itself…Sin is a rejection of the limits that love requires (page 34).”
Pope Francis calls us to see ourselves for who we are and our country for what it is. He says: “History is what it was, not what we want it to have been, and when we try to throw an ideological blanket over it, we make it much harder to see what in our present needs to change in order to move to a better future (page 30).” He calls us to accept our history — the good and the bad — move forward, take new roads, and build a brighter future for all people.
Finally, Pope Francis invites us to see that each one of us experiences what he calls “personal Covids (page 36)” in our lives. We all experience the life altering effects of the global pandemic. Everyone knows someone who has lost a job or a business; someone who has been sick; or someone who has died. And each one of us also experiences a personal hardship, a personal Covid that changes our life in some way. Each one of us experiences a personal Covid that teaches us some lesson that changes the way we live, who we are, how we think, and what we see. He says that our personal Covids teach us about patience, empathy, forgiveness, tolerance, and understanding. Our personal Covids have the power to purify us and set us free form past prejudices, assumptions, and expectations about life. He asks: “What is the greatest fruit of a personal Covid? I’d say patience, sprinkled with a healthy sense of humor, which allows us to endure and make space for change to happen (page 36).” About is own personal Covids, Pope Francis says: “What I learned was that you suffer a lot, but if you allow it to change you, you come out better. But if you dig in, you come out worse (page 44).”
In the end, this is the point of this time to see: to emerge a better person, to become a better people. Pope Francis says: “The basic rule of a crisis is that you don’t come out of it the same. If you get through it, you come out better or worse, but never the same (page 1).” He then says: “This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek — and to commit to act in our daily lives on what we have dreamed of (page 6).” Pope Francis warns that for too long we have neglected our relationships with God, with creation, and with each other. And we’re paying the price. But this, he says, is our “Noah moment (cf. page 15).” In the midst of this crisis of our own making, there is an ark filled with hope and the promise of better days — “as long as we can find our way to the Ark of the ties that unite us: of love, and of a common belonging (page 14).” May this be our “Noah moment!” May this be our time to see! Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
- Listen Now: Episode 1: Open Your Eyes
- Listen Now: Episode 2: What Comes from God
- Listen Now: Episode 3: No One Is Saved Alone
- Listen Now: Episode 4: Our Greatest Power
About the Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to Let Us Dream: A Virtual Retreat with Pope Francis. These audio recordings are produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project: A Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit and our ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at email@example.com. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Art Credit: Robert Harding – Alamy Stock Photo
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project and our upcoming opportunities for formation, prayer, and pilgrimage, please contact Cliff Garvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the Lord give you peace!
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