Pope Francis was just elected and we look forward to his message to the Universal Church in the coming days. He is a man of deep prayer and a man of profound concern for the poor. At the beginning of Lent, he made an impassioned plea to the clergy and religious of Argentina, “The Kingdom of God may need our hearts torn by the desire for conversion and for the love, the breaking forth of grace and the effective gesture to ease the pain of our brothers and sister who walk together with us.”
His message is poignant against indifference and grave social evil caused by sin. Sin has caused moral decadence of our society that has destroyed families, neighborhoods, communities – our whole culture. Against a culture that is cold to the most vulnerable, we must allow the plight of our brothers and sisters to pierce us to the heart by returning to the love of God. We cannot grow close to Christ and remain unconcerned about the corruption and social alienation sin has caused to on even the most fundamental level of our society – the family, the bond between husband and wife, the bond between children and their parents. Yet this fabric of our humanity is threatened today more than ever because of our own personal sin, sin that we do not take seriously, not only the things we have done but also the things we have failed to do.
This wound of sin is too deep to be addressed by merely external actions and gestures. If we are concerned for society, the depths of our hearts must be torn by the fact we have sin. Sin makes us hard of heart. It is a callous heart that sees the unborn, traditional marriage, the elderly, the sick and the poor as inconveniences we can ignore. We are not effectively protecting and loving the most vulnerable in our society because we do not take seriously the reality of sin in our lives.
So that the wound of sin in us can be healed, we must to allow the love of God to stir us and to wake us up out of our spiritual slumber. His message was a reflection on Joel 2:13, “Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.”
What a refreshing perspective! So often there is an unquestioned prejudice among those who work for social justice. Namely, that Catholicism is out of touch with the real human situation and because of this, traditional piety no longer has a place in the lives of those who are caring for the poor. Some even suppose that living a devotional life is a kind of escapism from the real world. But our future Pope does not see it this way and neither does our whole tradition.
For him, as was true for the Fathers of the Church, the contemporary explosion of social evil in the media, in our cities, in our neighborhoods, and in our families is the fruit of personal sin. Sin is the wound that threatens human existence on the most global and most personal levels. Like the great Bishops of Rome in the past, He is convinced that our Catholic faith knows how to deal with sin. For indeed, we have the antidote for death and for social evil: God’s merciful love revealed in Christ Jesus.
We are so blessed to have Pope Francis to preach the Gospel of Christ to us from the Chair of Peter. He will help us see that as we allow the love of God to pierce our hearts and move us to repent of sin, God has the power to turn us back to Him. It is through this conversion of heart to the love of God that we begin to really love one another – in our families, our neighborhoods, our communities and beyond. Here, putting our hearts in God’s hands, a life giving warmth is born in our actions and we begin to enjoy an effectiveness in building up the Kingdom of God that unaided social efforts simply lack. This conversion of the heart is the pathway to life, the pathway to Easter.