[I wrote this in my journal after going on Facebook the other day…]
Therefore encourage [parakaleite] one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. — 1 Thess. 5:11-13
So much is happening so fast. We are swimming in an ever-rising sea of new data, new experiences, new crises, new analyses, new opportunities which require a rapidly evolving assessment, analysis, judgment and response. Many wonderful breakthroughs have and will come, and many more mistakes are being and will be made. I already myself have a lengthy running tally of the latter!
This all calls for the very things panic can obscure — even-handedness, patient consideration, balanced judgment, humility, courage, charity, conciliatory forgiveness, constructive criticism that offers alternatives or helping hands instead of attacks, and a willingness to pray and offer sacrifices for those who bear the great burden of leadership. It’s an easy time to kick men or institutions or societies when they’re down, but it’s much harder to lower them down to Jesus on a mat, or to pick them up and carry them on your beast, at your own expense, to nearest Field Hospital.
I remember when Fr. Anthony said to me, after I completed a lenten penance, “From now on, for every charitable criticism you offer of another, ten brief acts of prayer for them. For every uncharitable one, ten brief acts of reparation.”
Who needs a parakaleite — an “advocate” and “encourager” — these days? Too many to name! All those who are suffering from job loss, illness, exhaustion, anxiety, et alia. Countless medical professionals. Men and women who ensure our safety and keep order. Those in public and private sector institutions providing our “essential services.” Our civic and religious leaders. Those tending to the homeless and vulnerable. Parents caring for children, children caring for their parents. Teachers who continue to educate us. Entertainers who try by creative means to lift our spirits. In a word, all those who are laboring long and hard on behalf of all, for the good of all.
Just thinking of all this humbles me to the dust, calls me out of my many comfort zones out into a greater gratitude.
All those out there who are the “humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history” (JP2) we are to “esteem very highly in love because of their work.” And if we see the need to point out or confront any of the errors, failures or sins in others, we Christians do this not by cursing the darkness, but by lighting a candle — first always repenting ourselves, then offering correction “with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:16) while encouraging, when possible, each other’s better angels. And for back-up, people of faith’s first go-to is always imploring from the merciful Father, “with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7), every good gift from above needed by each person who comes into our field of vision every day. Yes Cain, we are our brother’s keeper.
Thus, by fostering solidarity among all, we Christians are to become “as a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (Lumen Gentium #1). As “sign,” we must visibly embody unity, and as “instrument” we must allow God to accomplish this unity through us. Vatican II said it this way:
The promotion of unity belongs to the innermost nature of the Church … Thus she shows the world that an authentic union, social and external, results from a union of minds and hearts, namely from that faith and charity by which her own unity is unbreakably rooted in the Holy Spirit. For the force which the Church can inject into the modern society of man consists in that faith and charity put into vital practice, not in any external dominion exercised by merely human means (Gaudium et spes #42).
Seeing in us a sacrament, non-Christians should be able to look into the Christian community, whether online or in person, and say with stunned awe:
My God! See how they love one another and all! Even their enemies they treat as if friends. Now we see what it looks like to bring harmony into division…
…See! Where there is hatred, they sow love; Where there is injury, they offer pardon; Where there is doubt, they sow faith; Where there is despair, they bring hope; Where there is darkness, they shine light; And where there is sadness, they bear joy; Where there is suffering, they bring relief…
…“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!” (2 Kings 5:15)…
May God give superabundant wisdom, creativity, strength, protection, peace, courage, joy, patience, endurance and perseverance to all those who labor among us or are in authority over us.
May God, in this time of lenten purification, turn us back to Him, reconcile us to one another and open our eyes to Truth to see among us, as St. Augustine said it, “one Christ loving Himself.”
May we never abort His will to gestate love in the world through us…
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