LET US DREAM
A VIRTUAL RETREAT WITH POPE FRANCIS
DAY 3: A TIME TO ACT
By Cliff Garvey
No one is saved alone. — Pope Francis
In The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders, Jacob Needleman writes: “The deeper hope of America was its vision of what humanity is and can become, individually and in community. It was through that vision that all the material and social promise of America took its fire and light and its voice that called to men and women within its own borders and throughout the world. America was once a great idea, and it is such ideas that move the world, that open the possibility of meaning in human life.”
The fact is that there is no one vision that created our country. There is no single great idea that empowered our nation to grow and prosper. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both believed deeply in the God-given, natural rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. But Jefferson, the philosopher and slave owner, and Adams, the cantankerous revolutionary, interpreted these rights differently. The disagreed passionately about the value of a life, the limits on liberty, and the powers of government. But they fought a revolution together. They build a country together. And when they died together, on the 50th anniversary of American independence, they were friends.
Pope Francis says: “At the beginning of the story of every people is a quest for dignity and freedom, a history of solidarity and struggle (page 97).” But what happens when the ties that bind begin to fray? What happens when the struggle is won and the people begin to forget their roots? What happens when unity and solidarity dissolve into division, resentment, and radical individualism? The Holy Father says: “Indifference, egotism, a culture of complacent well-being, and deep divisions within society, spilling out into violence — all these are signs that a people has lost awareness of its dignity. It has ceased to believe in itself (page 98).” We would do well, then, to look around, appreciate the signs of the times, discern the voices that dominate discussion, and ask ourselves: Who are we? Where are we going? Are we on the right track? Have we lost our way?
Jacob Needleman writes: “The question of America is there: If America loses the meaning of its existence and if, in fact, America is now the dominant cultural influence in the world, then what will become of the world?” In Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, Pope Francis is not necessarily writing about the United States. But he could be. In any case, the Holy Father is calling us to mend fences, recover our sense of belonging, and come together in pursuit of a shared goal and higher purpose. He is calling us to act. He is calling us to build a better future. The pope says: “Let it not be said, in years to come, that in response to the coronavirus crisis we failed to act to restore the dignity of our peoples, to recover our memory, and to remember our roots (page 99).”
So, who are we as a people? What still unites us as a people? What can bring us closer together? Perhaps it is a shared fear of a virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters. Perhaps it is a shared commitment to our children and grandchildren; or to our aging parents and grandparents. Perhaps it is a shared dread of another drought or perfect storm that will prompt us to finally address the climate emergency.
Pope Francis says: “The feeling of being part of a people can only be recovered in the same way as it was forged: in shared struggle and hardship…A people may have profound disagreements and differences, but they can walk together inspired by shared goals and so create a future (page 100).” The pope then says: “It may seem strange to say it, but it’s true: the people has a soul (page 101).” What is that something greater? What are the core values that give life to the soul of a people? The Holy Father points to the defense of life and human dignity, the pursuit of justice, the care for creation, the love of freedom, and the love that we share for our families and our common cultural traditions.
Think about our hometown. Some among us are people of faith. Some are not. But together, we hope for and pray for similar things. The Holy Father says: “When the people prays, what does it ask for? For health, work, family, school; for a decent place to live; for enough money to get by; for peace between neighbors; and a fresh chance for the poor. These aims may not seem revolutionary or high-minded. But the people itself knows all too well that they are the fruit of justice (page 101).” In this sense, what might bring us together and keep us together as a people is the shared pursuit of concrete goals. Good jobs. Good schools. Good health care. Affordable housing. Safe neighborhoods. Clean parks and streets. A fair shot at what our grandparents and great-grandparents once called the American Dream.
My own grandfather was the son of Irish immigrants. His parents were poor, illiterate, and virtually unemployable. When his mother died young, my grandfather was placed in an orphanage. He came of age at the dark dawn of the Great Depression. He was drafted and served overseas as an army medic. After the war, he found a job, got a mortgage through the G.I. Bill, and bought a small house. My grandparents raised two sons and four grandchildren in that little house. They worked hard, paid their taxes, played by the rules, loved their kids, and looked out for their neighbors.
What my grandparents accomplished in life was the product of their hard work, their dedication to each other and their family, and the byproduct of their membership in a people — a people that pursued concrete and common goals. Despite a global depression and a world war, my grandparents and your grandparents, many of whom did not graduate from high school, let alone college, became the Greatest Generation. They made the best of their own lives and worked together to make life better for everyone. With all of the creative energy and digital technology at our command, can’t we do the same? Can’t we be that kind of people?
Pope Francis says: “If, faced with the challenge not just of this pandemic but of all the ills that affect us at this time, we can act as a single people, life and society will change for the better (page 102).” He then says: “No one is saved alone (page 104).” And he is right.
As Christians, it is our mission to live the Gospel, share God’s love, and rebuild the Church. It is our calling to see the world as it is, choose light over darkness, and act in practical ways that bring God’s love and mercy, in all of its fullness, to all of God’s children. It is our vocation to go out to the edges of human existence, bring people together, and work together, always together, in prayer, fellowship, and service. In a recent Message to Italian Catholics, the Holy Father says: “We cannot resign ourselves and stand at the windows and watch, we cannot remain indifferent or apathetic without assuming responsibility for others and for society.” It is not enough to take our seat, drop our envelope in the basket, receive Holy Communion, and race out to our car to avoid the traffic. We are called to stick around, stick it out, lend a helping hand, and pray like hell.
Pope Francis says it again: “No one is saved alone. Isolation is not part of our faith. God attracts us within a complex web of relationships and sends us out into the middle of the crossroads of history. To be a Christian, then, is to know that we are part of a people, a people expressed in different nations and cultures yet which transcends all boundaries of race and language (page 104).” It is not our mission to divide and conquer. It is not our calling to sit in judgment or expect that our wisdom is the only wisdom that speaks to the human heart. It is not our vocation to bar the doors and retreat into our private devotions.
The Holy Father says: “This is what Jesus did: He came to strengthen and deepen the bonds of belonging — of the people to God and to each other. That is why the one who matters most in the Kingdom of God is whoever makes himself last, serving others (Matthew 20:26-27), and especially the poor (page 105).” If this is what Jesus did, then what should we do? If this is a time to see, a time to discern and choose, and a time to act, then what next?
One of the hardest working disciples I know is a good friend who is now 96 years old. Her mind is sharp, but her body is weak. She can no longer volunteer in her parish. But all day, every day, she prays. She prays for her family and friends. She prays for her parish and for the Church throughout the world. She prays for the brothers and sisters she knows well. And she prays for those she knows not at all. Prayer is a way of seeing. It is the way of discernment. And it is the dynamic work of the disciple. If we want a better future, we must first pray for it.
In the midst of our prayers, we must grow closer to real problems. However hard it may be, we need to somehow get over ourselves and reach out. We need to go to work. We need to get our hands dirty. We need to turn off the television, sign-off the computer, put down our cell phones, and venture into the vineyard of the Lord. We need to act in practical ways to tackle concrete problems that affect real people. Indignity. Injustice. Poverty. Discrimination. The destruction of our common home. The throwaway culture that doesn’t care about the unborn child, the disabled veteran, the aging grandparent, or the tons of plastic being tossed into our rivers and oceans.
Pope Francis says: “The problem is not feeding the poor, or clothing the naked, or visiting the sick, but rather recognizing the poor, the naked, the sick, prisoners and the homeless have the dignity to sit at our table, to feel ‘at home’ among us, to feel a part of a family. This is the sign that the Kingdom of Heaven is in our midst (page 113).” We are called to see the world as it is; discern how we can help make it better; then go to work. The pope says: “The heart of Christianity is God’s love for all peoples and our love for our neighbors, especially those in need (page 119).” The Holy Father beckons us, as Christian disciples, to do our part (in thought, word, deed, prayer, and vote) to ensure that the common good of real people — especially poor people, sick people, and forgotten people — is our top priority. To do anything else, he says, is simply a “scandal (page 120).”
Pope Francis calls us to join with popular movements around the world, the so-called “social poets” of our time (pages 120-122), to take practical steps in our parishes, in our local communities, and in our country to build a better future. The pope challenges us to take action, in small ways and perhaps dramatic ways, to ensure that all people everywhere have access to what he calls the Three L’s. Land. Lodging. Labor. He’s talking here about land on which we can grow health food, from which we can drink clean water, and upon which we can stake a claim as good stewards of God’s creation (see pages 128-129). He’s talking here about lodging in the sense of affordable housing, green spaces, safe neighborhoods, and high quality public transportation. He’s talking here about labor not just as the way to make money, but as an expression of our dignity and creativity, as an expression of our common identity and shared values. Pope Francis says: “By focusing on land, lodging, and labor, we can regain a healthy relationship with the world and grow by serving others (page 132).”
In the end, the Holy Father asks us to consider the proposition that the dignity of each person and the common good should be the focus of all our actions. He says: “When you put people’s dignity at the center, you create a new logic of mercy and care. Then what is truly of value is restored to its rightful place. Either a society is geared to a culture of sacrifice — the triumph of the fittest and the throwaway culture — or to mercy and care (page 117).” It is time to act. Let’s join hands and work together. Let’s be agents of the common good; instruments of God’s mercy and care for the world and its people. And let’s realize once and for all that no one is saved alone. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com. May the Lord give you peace!
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