LET US DREAM
A VIRTUAL RETREAT WITH POPE FRANCIS
DAY 2: A TIME TO CHOOSE
By Cliff Garvey
What comes from God asks: ‘What is good for me? What is good for us?’ — Pope Francis
In Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, Pope Francis challenges us to open our eyes, seek our sick and suffering world, and take concrete steps to better care of each other and our common home. But how can we make sense of what we see? How can we better distinguish between fact and fiction, truth and lies, light and darkness? How can we make the good choices that will build a better future for all of us? Pope Francis says: “Between the first step, which is to come close and allow yourself to be struck by what you see, and the third step, which is to act concretely to heal and repair, there is an essential intermediate state: to discern and to choose (page 51).” This time of discernment and choosing involves preparation.
If we truly seek a better and healthier world, one that is more just and more fraternal, we must first settle on some basic criteria. We must be open to reality. Our hearts and minds must be open to see and accept things as they are. Facts are facts. Opinions are opinions. And there’s a difference. We must be open to love. Our hearts and minds must be open to appreciate that we are all God’s children: no matter who we are, no matter where we’re from, and no matter what we’ve done. We must be open to service. Our hearts and minds must be open to being our brother’s keeper, sharing our sister’s burden, understanding that we are all “called to be a people in service and solidarity to another and to the world (page 51).”
We must also go back to the basics. Our hearts and minds must be open to embrace the core values of the Christian life. Pope Francis says: “This is a time to recover values (page 51).” The dignity of all creation. The dignity of every human person. The dignity of work. The dignity of loving relationships. The pope also says: “Jesus gave us a set of key words with which he summed up the grammar of the kingdom of God: the Beatitudes (page 51).” In the Gospel of Matthew (5:3-12), Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount and reveals eight blessings that show us how to live the Gospel and share God’s love with the world. In the Beatitudes, Pope Francis sees the seeds of hope, peace and fraternity, equity and justice. And from these basic blessings and fundamental values springs forth the richness of Catholic Social Teaching:
- Preferential option for the poor
- Priority of the common good
- Universal destination of goods
- Solidarity and subsidiarity
These principles call us to think deeply about the poor, the sick, the weak, the left behind, and the health of our shared environment. These principles challenge us to think deeply about how we live, where and how we build, what and how much we consume, and what we do with what’s left over. These principles expect from us an understanding of some important ideas.
The Holy Father says: “Solidarity acknowledges our interconnectedness: we are creatures in relationship, with duties toward each other, and all are called to participate in society. That means welcoming the stranger, forgiving debts, giving a home to the disabled, and allowing other people’s dreams and hopes for a better life to become our own (page 53).” In other words, we are all in this together. We are brothers and sisters. We are part of the same human family. We need each other. We belong to each other. We are responsible for each other.
The pope then says: “Subsidiarity ensures that we do not distort the idea of solidarity, which involves recognizing and respecting the autonomy of others as subjects of their own destiny (page 53).” In other words, we are still individuals who are responsible for ourselves, our families, and our own actions. If we need help, we should turn first to our neighbors, our extended family, and our local community. If we have a problem, we look to the competent person or responsible institution that is closest to us and closest to the situation. Here’s an example. If it’s too cold in your church this winter, put on a warm sweater, then talk with your pastor. There’s no need to call the bishop!
Pope Francis also says: “Another principle of social teaching is the universal destination of goods. God meant the goods of the earth for all. Private property is a right, but its use and regulation need to keep in mind this key principle. The goods of life — land, lodging, and labor — should be made available to all. This is not altruism, or goodwill; it is what love demands. The early Church fathers made clear that giving to the poor is just giving back to them what is theirs, for God intended the goods of the earth for all, without excluding anyone (page 53).” For a society built on the principle that a man or woman’s home is his or her castle, these words sound counter-cultural at least, revolutionary at their worst. In reality, though, Pope Francis simply asks us to appreciate that no one can be truly free, no one can be truly responsible for themselves, no one can make a meaningful contribution to society when they can’t find good work to support their family, nutritious food to feed their children, or affordable housing anywhere near where they might find a decent job.
Over and over again, Pope Francis challenges us to keep the common good ever in mind. He says: “When the Church speaks of the common good it asks us to have regard for the good of society as a whole…The common good is the good we all share in, the good of the people as a whole (page 53).” For many years, I taught undergraduate courses in American Government at two colleges near Boston. Every semester, one of our first class discussions was about the enduring tension between individualism and the common good in American politics. Our founding documents proclaim that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and life, liberty, and property are the natural rights of a free people (See the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution’s 5th and 14th Amendments). In one way or another, these iconic words are seared into the American soul.
At the same time, we must see that not everyone enjoys the blessings of liberty. Not everyone enjoys the same opportunity to pursue real happiness, let alone buy a house or land a job with good benefits. The Washington Post recently reported that in 28 economically developed countries, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing fast. In those countries, the top 10% of households owns 52% or all wealth. The bottom 60% of households owns only 12% of that wealth. In the United States, it’s even worse. The top 10% of households owns almost 80% of all wealth. The bottom 60% of households owns only 2.4% of that wealth. Is this a world that seeks the common good? If not, how do we build a better future? How do we promote the common good? How do we practice Catholic Social Teaching? How do we truly live the Beatitudes?
Pope Francis says that we should begin with discernment. In the Christian tradition, discernment is the process by which we come to understand and choose to act on God’s will. The pope says: “Discernment means to think through our decisions and actions, not just by rational calculation but by listening for His Spirit, recognizing in prayer God’s motives, invitations, and will (54).” Discernment is not about simply choosing between two absolutes. It is not about yes or no, right or wrong, moral or immoral. It is about getting the facts, bringing them to prayer, and listening for the voice of God. The Holy Father says: “The discernment step allows us to ask: What is the Spirit telling us? What is the grace on offer here, if we can only embrace it, and what are the obstacles and temptations? What humanizes, what dehumanizes? Where is the good news hidden within the somber news, and where is the bad spirit dressed as an angel of light (page 60)?”
To discern the difference between the good spirit, which is the Holy Spirit, and the bad spirit, which is the spirit of darkness and division, is no small task. It requires us to choose between two very different spirits. Pope Francis says: “They speak different languages; they use different ways to reach our hearts. The voice of God never imposes, but proposes, whereas the enemy is strident, insistent, and even monotonous. The voice of God might correct us, but gently, always encouraging, consoling, giving us hope. The bad spirit on the other hand offers us dazzling illusions and tempting solutions, but they are fleeting. It exploits our fears and suspicions, and seduces us with wealth and prestige. If we ignore it, it responds with contempt and accusation, telling us: ‘You’re worthless (page 61).'”
The dark voice turns us back on ourselves — on our own fears, prejudices, and narrow interests. Me. Me. Me. Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. I won. I am the best. I alone can fix it. Pope Francis says: “The bad spirit…closes me in on myself, and makes me rigid and intolerant. It is the spirit of fear and ignorance. It makes me sad, fearful, and irritable (page 62).” The dark voice never reconciles. It never seeks the middle ground. It never builds bridges. It never serves. It only divides. It exploits sincere differences of opinion. It drives wedges between friends and creates canyons of anger in families. This dark voice loves a fight, not just an argument. It loves a riot, not just a rally. It loves to create problems, not solve them.
By contrast, the good spirit, the Holy Spirit, is the voice of reason and reconciliation. It brings people together, forges friendships, and builds bridges of peace, justice, and solidarity between people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, and ways of life. The pope says: “What comes from God asks: ‘What is good for me? What is good for us?’…The good spirit appeals to my desire to do good, to help and serve, and gives me strength to go forward on the right path (page 61).” The voice of God speaks of love and peace, truth and justice, fraternity and solidarity. The voice of God speaks for the poor, for the dignity of every life, for the nobility of all creation, and for those who cannot speak for themselves.
The voice of God respects our sincere differences of style, opinion, and principle. But it sees these differences as an opportunity to engage with others in a spirit of mutual respect, mutual support, and mutual understanding. The voice of God calls us to become instruments of peace and reconciliation in our world. Pope Francis says: “The task of the reconciler is…to endure the conflict, facing it head-on and by discerning see beyond the surface reasons for disagreement, opening those involved to the possibility of a new synthesis, one that does not destroy either pole, but preserves what is good and valid in both in a new perspective. This breakthrough comes about as a gift in dialogue, when people trust each other and humbly seek the good together, and are willing to learn from each other in a mutual exchange of gifts (page 80).” Anyone who enjoys the blessings of a close family, a happy marriage, a best friendship, or a vibrant parish knows what this means.
This new synthesis is not relativism. And it’s not winner take all. It is the harmony that comes with spring, when each of God’s creatures lends its talent and its voice to the sweet song of a new season. It is walking and working together. Pope Francis says: “Sometimes walking together means continuing to endure the disagreements, leaving them to be transcended on a higher level at a later time (page 91).” The pope also says: “This is hard work; it needs patience and commitment — above all to each other (page 82).” Now more than ever, it is time to choose. May we choose what comes from God. 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
Learn More: Let Us Dream – Official Publisher Page
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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