One of the most stimulating books I read in recent times is a collaborative publication by British journalist Austen Ivereigh and Pope Francis resulting in the reflections of the Pontiff on the current pandemic crisis and seeking a hope filled path for a better future.
The work is divided into three sections with an analysis on where we are at present: A Time to See. It moves on to ‘discern’ what the way forward might be, A Time to Chose. It concludes with some proposals for action, A Time to Act.
Since his election in 2013 the views of Pope Francis have become very well-known and have attracted considerable attention within the Church and outside. His refreshing communicative style, openness, compassionate approach, radical inclusiveness, option for the poor, commitment to the environment and all round prayerfulness certainly gives the impression of a representative of Jesus Christ who does what the instructions say on the tin, so to speak! Much of his thinking since becoming Pope is crystalized in this short, easy-to-read volume.
Being a Jesuit and a disciple of Ignatius of Loyola the practice of ‘discernment’; consultative, reflective, prayerful analysis of situations is his way of approaching things. He has developed this way of going about things into what he proposes as the future way for the Church, working in a ‘synodal’ way. Pope Francis intends having a major gatherings of believers on this theme in the very near future.
This volume came about due to the crisis of hope caused by the current pandemic. What has this to say about and to us as human beings, society and Church and is there a better way forward as we emerge into a ‘new normal’?
In the first section of the book, in the context of the virus, the Pope looks at the human reality of what he calls the ‘myth of self-sufficiency’ and the ‘radical powerlessness’ we have experienced individually and collectively.
The present time has become a ‘throwaway culture’ in which people and things are quickly discarded beyond their usefulness. We have become enslaved in what he calls a ‘technocratic paradigm’ where technology, the success of the economy rather than human beings are more important than human realities. One of the consequences of this is a loss of genuine community and a growth in individualism. The result of this individualism brings with it narcissism, discouragement and pessimism takes over and leads to a sense of hopelessness. The pope speaks of the ‘virus of indifference’ and according to him one of the dangers of this indifference is that it becomes normal, silently seeping into our lifestyle and value judgements. Getting accustomed to indifference is to the detriment of human flourishing.
Pope Francis would see this time of crisis as an opportunity to forge a new and fresh reality. He advocates a return to community, retrieval of what he calls ‘collective soul’. He advocates going to the margins, to listen to the poor and needy in order to find a better future. People on the margins, he says, people who are on the edge become the protagonists of social change. The health of any society he claims can be measured by the way people on the margins are treated.
In reflecting on the goodness of people demonstrated during the pandemic, glimpses of a ‘culture of sacrifice’ he proposes further harnessing this ‘eruption of fraternity’. Fraternity is the our new frontier. The ethics of fraternity need to be restored as our organising principle.
Ecological awareness, poetic awareness, openness to the aesthetic has been an issue dear to the heart of the Pope and was expressed strongly in his message in Laudato Si’ from 2015. He is adamant that this work is not merely a ‘green encyclical’. It’s a social encyclical. To talk about creation you need poetry, beauty and awareness of all species, not least the human. In other words, he says if you think abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty are acceptable, your heart will find it hard to care about the contamination of rivers and the destruction of the rainforest and vice versa.
This is a time to recover values, in the proper sense of the word; to return to what is authentically worthwhile. The value of life, of nature, of the dignity of the person, of work, of relationship…
In the post-Covid world, neither ‘technocratic managerialism’ nor populism will suffice. Only politics and lifestyle choices rooted in the genuine needs of the people will be able to change our future and make for a better world to live in.
Let us Dream: A Path to a better Future was published in Dec 2020 and is available on-line.
Fintan Monahan, Bishop of Killaloe
Clare Champion Article 12th of February 2021