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Friday, July 10, 2015

To the Bolivian clergy: “To pass by without hearing the pain of our people is like listening to the word of God without letting it take root”

Vatican City, 10 July 2015 (VIS) - “How can you love God, whom you do not see, if you do not love your brother whom you do see?” was the question Pope Francis posed to the four thousand Bolivian priests, men and women religious and seminarians whom he met yesterday afternoon in the “Coliseo Don Bosco”, a school managed by Salesian Fathers. The Holy Father commented on the passage from the Gospel about the blind man Bartimaeus, a beggar who, hearing Jesus approach with the apostles and a large crowd of followers, calls out to be healed.

“If we translate this, forcing the language”, said the Pope, “around Jesus we find the bishops, priests, nuns, seminarians, active laypeople, all those who follow Jesus, listening to Him, and the faithful people of God”.

“Two things about this story jump out at us and make an impression”, remarked Francis. “On the one hand, there is the cry of a beggar, and on the other, the different reactions of the disciples. Let us think of the different reactions of the bishops, the priests, the nuns, the seminarians, and the cries that are heard or that go unheeded. It is as if the Evangelist wanted to show us the effect which Bartimaeus’ cry had on people’s lives, on the lives of Jesus’ followers. How did they react when faced with the suffering of that man on the side of the road, in his misery, whom nobody noticed, to whom nobody gave anything … who did not enter into that circle of the Lord's followers”.

The Gospel tells us of the three responses to the cry of the blind man: they passed by, they told him to be quiet, and they told him to take heart and get up.

“They passed by. Perhaps some of those who passed by did not even hear his shouting, because they were not listening. They were with Jesus … they wanted to hear Jesus. They did not listen. Passing by is the response of indifference, of avoiding other people’s problems because they do not affect us. It is not my problem. We do not hear them, we do not recognise them. Deafness. Here we have the temptation to see suffering as something natural, to take injustice for granted. And yes, there are people like this. I am here with God, with my consecrated life, and yes, it is natural that there are sick people … the poor … people who suffer; and so it is also natural that a cry or a plea for help does not attract my attention. And we say to ourselves, 'This is nothing unusual; this is the way things are'. It is the response born of a blind, closed heart, a heart which has lost the ability to be touched and hence the possibility to change. A heart used to passing by without letting itself be touched; a life which passes from one thing to the next, without ever sinking roots in the lives of the people around us, simply because it is part of the elite that follows the Lord. We could call this 'the spirituality of zapping'. It is always on the move, but it has nothing to show for it. There are people who keep up with the latest news, the most recent best sellers, but they never manage to connect with others, to strike up a relationship, to get involved, even with the Lord they are following, because deafness spreads.

“You may say to me, 'But these people were following the Master, they were busy listening to the words of the Master. They were intent on Him'. I think that this is one of the most challenging things about Christian spirituality. The Evangelist John tells us, 'How can you love God, Whom you do not see, if you do not love your brother whom you do see?'. One of the great temptations we encounter along the way, as we follow Jesus, is to separate these two things – listening to God and listening to our brother – which belong together. We need to be aware of this. The way we listen to God the Father is how we should listen to His faithful people. To pass by, without hearing the pain of our people, without sinking roots in their lives and in their world, is like listening to the word of God without letting it take root and bear fruit in our hearts. Like a tree, a life without roots is a one which withers and dies”.

The second response to Bartimaeus’ cry was to tell him to keep quiet. “Be quiet, don't bother us, don't disturb us, we who are engaged in community prayer, we who have attained a high level of spirituality. Do not bother us, do not disturb. Unlike the first response, this one hears, acknowledges, and makes contact with the cry of another person. It recognises that he or she is there, but reacts simply by scolding. There are bishops, priests, nuns, Popes, who wag their finger like this. … And the poor faithful people of God, how often they are affected by the bad mood or the personal situation of one of Jesus' followers. It is the attitude of some leaders of God’s people; they continually scold others, hurl reproaches at them, tell them to be quiet. 'Madam, take your crying child out of the church while I am preaching'. As if the cry of a child were not a sublime form of sermon'.

This is the drama of the isolated consciousness, of those disciples who think that the life of Jesus is only for those deserve it. At its basis there is a profound disdain for the holy faithful people of God. They seem to believe there is only room for the 'worthy', for the 'better people', and little by little they separate and differentiate themselves from the others. They have made their identity a badge of superiority. They are not pastors, but foremen: 'I am here, now get into your place'. They hear, but they don’t listen. The need to show that they are different has closed their heart. Their need to tell themselves, 'I am not like that person, like those people', not only cuts them off from the cry of their people, from their tears, but most of all from their reasons for rejoicing. Laughing with those who laugh, weeping with those who weep; all this is part of the mystery of a priestly heart”.

Thirdly, they told him to take heart and get up. “It is not so much a direct response to the cry of Bartimaeus as an echo, or a reflection, of the way Jesus Himself responded to the pleading of the blind beggar. In those who told him to take heart and get up, the beggar’s cry issued in a word, an invitation, a new and changed way of responding to God’s holy People. Unlike those who simply passed by, the Gospel says that Jesus stopped and asked what was happening. He stopped when someone cried out to Him. Jesus singled him out from the nameless crowd and got involved in his life. And far from ordering him to keep quiet, He asked him, 'What do you want me to do for you?'. He didn’t have to show that He was different, somehow apart; He didn’t decide whether Bartimaeus was worthy or not before speaking to him. He simply asked him a question, looked at him and sought to come into his life, to share his lot. And by doing this He gradually restored the man’s lost dignity; He included him. Far from looking down on him, Jesus was moved to identify with the man’s problems and thus to show the transforming power of mercy. There can be no compassion without stopping, hearing and showing solidarity with the other. Compassion is not about zapping, it is not about silencing pain, it is about the logic of love. A logic, a way of thinking and feeling, which is not grounded in fear but in the freedom born of love and of desire to put the good of others before all else. A logic born of not being afraid to draw near to the pain of our people. Even if often this means no more than standing at their side and praying with them.

“This is the logic of discipleship, it is what the Holy Spirit does with us and in us”, emphasised the Pope. “We are witnesses of this. One day Jesus saw us on the side of the road, wallowing in our own pain and misery, in our indifference. He did not close his ear to our cries. He stopped, drew near and asked what He could do for us. And thanks to many witnesses, who told us, 'Take heart; get up', gradually we experienced this merciful love, this transforming love, which enabled us to see the light. We are witnesses not of an ideology, of a recipe, of a particular theology. We are witnesses to the healing and merciful love of Jesus. We are witnesses of His working in the lives of our communities. This is the pedagogy of the Master, this is the pedagogy which God uses with His people. It leads us to passing from distracted zapping to the point where we can say to others: 'Take heart; get up. The Master is calling you'. Not so that we can be special, not so that we can be better than others, not so that we can be God’s functionaries, but only because we are grateful witnesses to the mercy which changed us. … And when you live in this way, there is joy and good cheer.

“On this journey we are not alone. We help one another by our example and by our prayers. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Let us think of Blessed Nazaria Ignacia de Santa Teresa de Jesus, who dedicated her life to the proclamation of God’s Kingdom through her care for the aged, her 'kettle of the poor' for the hungry, her homes for orphaned children, her hospitals for wounded soldiers and her creation of a women’s trade union to promote the welfare of women. Let us also think of Venerable Virginia Blanco Tardio, who was completely dedicated to the evangelisation and care of the poor and the sick”.

“These women, and so many other persons like them – anonymous, many of them – who follow Jesus, are an encouragement to us along our way”, exclaimed the bishop of Rome. “May we press forward with the help and cooperation of all. For the Lord wants to use us to make his light reach to every corner of our world”.

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