It can be hard to gaze upon the Crucified Christ, let alone not avert our eyes when he gazes back at us. It may be even harder to look into the face of Our Lady of Sorrows; it's much easier to look away.
With only a week to go until Pope Francis arrives, I wonder whether Catholics in the U.S. will have the courage to look him in the eye. After all, it will be very tempting to selectively choose what already fits with our political or economic (self)interests, and then collectively ignore anything that challenges our personal or cultural status quo.
Since his election as pope in 2013, evidence of this dynamic has been legion (the pun is not intentional but may be fitting). A recent and ongoing example of this "look away" dynamic centers on Pope Francis' new environmental encyclical.
Political liberals have lauded Laudato Si', even as they continue to ignore the Holy Father's relentless promotion of so-called "social issues" such as marriage and family, religious liberty and protection of those who are most vulnerable. Political conservatives, on the other hand, seem intent on finding ways to dismiss this encyclical, even as they cheer Pope Francis' rejection of gender theory and his critique of the "ideological colonization" of families.
Indeed, the inter-weaving of ecological issues and social issues in this magisterial teaching seems destined to cut across our all-too-comfortable categories of thought. The temptation to look away is very strong. Consider this challenging example (LS, n. 120):
"Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? 'If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away'."
The thought of American Catholics clamoring about the environment yet defending Planned Parenthood's crimes against humanity will itself help hasten the withering away of this society. Blaming the messenger, or trying to ignore the shocking practices captured in video-taped conversations, is both disingenuous and complicitous.
Of course, once we grasp the basic human need to protect unborn human life, we also ought to embrace concern for the protection of nature and other vulnerable beings. We ought not blame or ignore the messenger here either, nor should we try to act like he's treating all issues as if they carry the same moral weight. But Pope Francis seems to be pleading with us not to avert our eyes because, as he repeats over and over again throughout Laudato Si', "Everything is connected".
So, if you are willing to open yourself to an unfiltered experience of the pope's full message during the imminent apostolic visit, consider these resources:
- Live streaming of papal events and video on demand at www.usccb.org/live.
- Resources for a virtual pilgrimage during Pope Francis' papal visit.
And let's pray that Holy Father Francis touches the hearts and opens the minds of all people of good will who long to help build a more beautiful world!