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Hope and realism on the road


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Ramiro Pellitero

Professor at School of Theology

Three themes stand out among the Pope's teachings during the month of November: the hope of Heaven, and its consequences; the disposition for fraternity and peace; attention to the poor and most needy. 

The first of these is linked to the celebrations of the month of November; the second, to his apostolicvisit to Bahrain; the third, to the workshop world-wide of the poor.

Waiting and surprise from Heaven 

The Pope's homily at the Mass for cardinals and bishops who have died during the year (2-XI-2022) focused on two words: hope and surprise.

Waiting, he explained, expresses the meaning of the Christian life that goes towards meeting with God and the redemption of our body, resurrected and renewed (cf. Rem 8:23). There the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah beautifully says, "will annihilate death forever" and "wipe away tears from all faces" (Is 25:7). And that, Francis observes, is beautiful. On the other hand, it is ugly when we expect our tears to be wiped away by someone or something that, because it is not God, cannot do it. Or worse, when we do not even have tears. What does this mean?

First of all, we should examine the content of our expectation. Sometimes our desires have nothing to do with heaven. " For we run the risk of continually aspiring to things that happen, of confusing desires with needs, of putting the expectations of the world before the expectation of God". This is like "losing sight of what matters in order to go after the wind", and it would be "the greatest mistake of life". That is why it is good for us to ask ourselves: "Am I capable of going to the essential or do I get distracted by so many superfluous things? Do I cultivate hope or do I keep complaining because I give too much value to so many things that do not count and that will pass away?

The ability to have tears

The second observation (the ability to have tears) can be seen in relation to compassion and mercy. Francis explains it with the surprise we find in the Gospel: "At the divine tribunal, the only merit and accusation is mercy towards the poor and the discarded: 'As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me,' Jesus sentences (Mt 25:40). The Most High seems to be in the least of these. He who dwells in heaven lives among the least of the world. What a surprise!".

And why is this so, one might ask. And one could answer as Francis does: because Jesus was born and lived poor and humble (detached from his divine condition) and gave himself to us gratuitously (without any previous merit on our part). And thus he reveals to us the measure of the value of our life: love, mercy, generosity. 

Consequence, now, for us: "So, in order to prepare ourselves, we know what to do: to love freely and freely, without expecting anything in return, those who are included in his list of preferences, those who cannot give anything back to us, those who do not attract us, those who serve the little ones". When the final judgment comes, we will find ourselves, then, with that "surprise", which we should have known, because we are Christians. Therefore, Francis advises us, "let us not allow ourselves to be surprised too". Let us not sweeten the taste of the Gospel for convenience or comfort, let us not water it down, let us not dilute its message and the words of Jesus. 

Do we want concrete things?"From simple disciples of the Master we have become masters of complexity, who talk a lot and do little, who look for answers more before the computer than before the Crucifix, on the Internet instead of in the eyes of our brothers and sisters; Christians who comment, debate and expound theories, but do not even know a poor person by name, have not visited a sick person for months, have never fed or clothed someone, have never befriended a homeless person, forgetting that 'the program of the Christian is a heart that sees' (Benedict XVI, Deus caritas esto, 31)".

At final, to the question: And when did we see you..., the answer is: now, every day. This is how the successor of Peter explains it. The most important answer staff, the one that the Lord expects from each one of us is not the clarifications and analyses and justifications (which are undoubtedly important and He has and will take into account). The most important thing is in our hands and each one of us is responsible for it. 

This is the teaching, which challenges us directly, combining the call to hope with realism: "Today the Lord reminds us that death comes to make truth about life and removes any extenuating circumstance to mercy. Brothers, sisters, we cannot say that we do not know. We cannot confuse the reality of beauty with artificially made-up make-up".

Ultimately, the measure of our life is none other than love, understood in depth and in truth, as Jesus lives it and reveals it: "The Gospel explains how to live the waiting: we go to God's meeting loving because He is love. And, on the day of our farewell, the surprise will be happy if now we allow ourselves to be surprised by the presence of God, who waits for us among the poor and wounded of the world. Let us not be afraid of that surprise: let us go forward in the things the Gospel tells us, to be judged as righteous at the end. God waits to be caressed not with words, but with deeds".

Expanding the horizons of fraternity and peace

The apostolic journey of Francis to the Kingdom of Bahrain (November 3-6) had as goal, as the Pope declared when he made his assessment three days after his return (cfr. General Audience, 9-XI-2022), to expand the horizons of fraternity and peace in our world. And he asked himself, also that day, why visit a small country with a Muslim majority, if there are many Christian countries... And he answered with three words: dialogue, meeting and way.

Dialogue, because this place - which is advancing in peace, despite being composed of many islands - sample that dialogue is the oxygen of life. And this requires renouncing the egoism of one's own nation, openness to others, the search for unity (cfr. Gaudium et spes, 82) in order to advance, with the guide of religious and civil leaders, on the great issues that we have raised at the universal level: "the forgetfulness of God, the tragedy of hunger, the protection of creation, peace". That was the meaning of the forum that the Pope went to close, graduate East and West for human coexistence . Dialogue should promote meeting and reject war. Francis referred once again to the status in Ukraine, as one among other conflicts that cannot be resolved by war. 

There can be no dialogue without meeting. The Pope met with Muslim leaders (the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar), with the youth of high school Sacred Heart, with the committee Muslim Elders, who promote relations between Islamic communities, in the name of respect, moderation and peace, opposing fundamentalism and violence.

And so this trip is part of a journey. The path that St. John Paul II began when he went to Morocco (in August 1985), to help the dialogue between Christian and Muslim believers, which promotes peace. The motto of the trip was: Peace on earth for people of good will. Dialogue, the Pope explains, does not dilute one's identity, but demands and presupposes it. "If you have no identity, you cannot dialogue, because you do not even understand what you are."Francis encouraged dialogue in Bahrain also among Christians, in his meeting with Christians of various confessions and rites in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia (4-XI-2022).

And we Catholics also need dialogue among ourselves. This was made clear at the Mass celebrated at the national stadium (5-XI-2022) where the Pope spoke to them of "always loving" (even enemies) and "loving everyone". And also at the meeting prayer at the Sacred Heart Church in Manama (6-XI-2022), where he spoke to them of joy, unity and "prophecy" (to get involved in the problems of others, to bear witness, to bring the light of the Gospel message, to seek justice and peace).

In his evaluation of the trip, the Pope called once again to "expand horizons": the horizons of human fraternity and peace. How to do it concretely? Through openness to others, broadening one's own interests, making oneself more known. "If you dedicate yourself to getting to know others, you will never feel threatened. But if you are afraid of others, you yourself will be a threat to them. The path of fraternity and peace, in order to advance, needs each and everyone. I give my hand, but if there is no other hand on the other side, it is useless".

The temple, discernment and the poor

Five years have passed since Francis instituted the workshop World Day of the Poor. On this occasion (cf. Homily, 13-XI-2022, and Message for this workshop, published last June 13), the Pope referred to the reality of the temple of Jerusalem, which many admired in its splendor (cf. Lk 21:5-11). That temple, in the Christian perspective, was a prefiguration of the true temple of God, that is, Jesus as head of the Church (cf. Jn 2:18-21).

It is something that affects us personally. Because this background of salvation history and the Christian faith must be translated into concrete reality, in the here and now of our lives, through discernment. To show this, on this occasion the Pope focused on two exhortations of the Lord: "Do not let yourselves be deceived" and "bear witness". 

Discernment so as not to be deceived

Jesus' listeners worried about when and how the dreadful events he was announcing (including the destruction of the temple) would take place. Neither, Francis advises, should we allow ourselves to be carried away by "the temptation to read the most dramatic events in a superstitious or catastrophic way, as if we were already close to the end of the world and it were no longer worthwhile to commit ourselves to anything good". Jesus tells us, in the Pope's words: "Learn to read events with the eyes of faith, confident that when you are close to God not a hair of your head will perish" (Lk 21:18).

Moreover, although history is full of dramatic situations, wars and calamities, this is not the end, nor is it a reason to be paralyzed by fear or defeatism of those who think that all is lost and it is useless to make an effort. The Christian does not allow himself to be atrophied by resignation or discouragement. Not even in the most difficult situations, "because his God is the God of resurrection and hope, who always lifts us up: with him we can always look up, start again and begin again" .

Occasion of testimony and work

And that is why the second exhortation of Jesus, after "do not be deceived", is positive. He says: "This will be an opportunity for you to bear witness" (v. 13), and the Pope dwells on this expression: an opportunity to bear witness. The occasion means to have the opportunity to do something good from the circumstances of life, even if they are not ideal. 

"It is a beautiful art, typically Christian: not to be victims of what happens - the Christian is not a victim and victim psychology is bad, it hurts us - but to seize the opportunity that is hidden in everything that happens to us, the good that can be done, that little good that can be done, and to build even from negative situations." 

Typical of Francis is the affirmation, which he repeats here, that every crisis is a possibility and offers opportunities for growth (it is open to God and others). And that the evil spirit tries to transform the crisis into conflict (something closed, without horizon and without exit). In fact, when we examine or "reread" our history staff we realize that we have often taken the most important steps in certain crises or trials, where we did not fully control the status.

Therefore, in the face of the crises and conflicts we witness - related to violence, climate change, pandemics, unemployment, forced migrations, misery, etc. - every day, we cannot waste or squander money, waste our lives, without taking courage and moving forward.

"On the contrary, let us bear witness" that it is possible to build a more fraternal world, let us be more courageous to stand on the side of the weak, let us face this history in which we live (Here we can see a call to works of mercy, to work well done, in a spirit of service, to the search for justice in our relationships with others, to the improvement of our society). "We must always repeat this to ourselves, especially in the most painful moments: God is Father and He is at my side, He knows me and loves me, He watches over me, He does not fall asleep, He takes care of me and with Him not a hair of my head will be lost."

But the question does not stop there (because faith is lived in works): "And how do I respond to this? [...] Seeing all this, what do I, as a Christian, feel I must do at this moment? Francis alludes to an old Christian tradition, present also in the villages of Italy: at Christmas dinner, leave an empty place for the Lord who can knock at the door in the person of a poor person in need. But, he observes, will my heart have a free place for those people, or will I be too busy with friends, events and social obligations?

"We cannot remain," he concludes, "like those of whom the Gospel speaks, admiring the beautiful stones of the temple, without recognizing the true temple of God, the human being, the man and the woman, especially the poor, in whose face, in whose history, in whose wounds Jesus is. He said it. Let us never forget it.