January 8, 2021


The liberating power of unselfish love

In his 2021 World Day of Peace Message, Pope Francis describes what he calls a “culture of care” that is indispensable to achieving true peace.

The Holy Father says: “The culture of care thus calls for a common, supportive and inclusive commitment to protecting and promoting the dignity and good of all, a willingness to show care and compassion, to work for reconciliation and healing, and to advance mutual respect and acceptance. As such, it represents a privileged path to peace. ‘In many parts of the world, there is a need for paths of peace to heal open wounds. There is also a need for peacemakers, men and women prepared to work boldly and creatively to initiate processes of healing and renewed encounter’ ” (“Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship,” #225).

A culture of care—for human life and for all of God’s creation—is essential to overcoming the sins of violence, exploitation of the environment and indifference to the needs of our sisters and brothers here in Indiana and throughout the world.

“Caring” is, of course, another word for caritas (charity), the greatest of all the virtues. Unless we develop a culture of charity, of the love that comes from God’s own heart, we cannot be at peace with ourselves, with our neighbors or with the world we inhabit. If we really don’t care about anything or anyone, we have become trapped within a hardened shell of indifference and resentment.

What Pope Francis calls “a culture of care” is the network of relationships with God and with others that allows us to move beyond selfishness and sin in order to experience the liberating power of unselfish love.

According to Pope Francis, this culture of care is eminently practical. As he says in his World Day of Peace message: “The year 2020 was marked by the massive COVID-19 health crisis, which became a global phenomenon cutting across boundaries, aggravating deeply interrelated crises like those of the climate, food, the economy and migration, and causing great suffering and hardship. I think especially of all those who lost family members or loved ones, and all who lost their jobs. I think too of physicians and nurses, pharmacists, researchers, volunteers, chaplains and the personnel of hospitals and health care centers. They have made, and are continuing to make, great sacrifices to be present to the sick, to alleviate their sufferings and to save their lives; indeed, many of them have died in the process.”

Equally practical, unfortunately, are the instances when we have failed to express the love of God in our dealings with one another. “Sad to say, alongside all these testimonies of love and solidarity, we have also seen a surge in various forms of nationalism, racism and xenophobia, and wars and conflicts that bring only death and destruction in their wake,” the Holy Father says. “These and other events that marked humanity’s path this past year have taught us how important it is to care for one another and for creation in our efforts to build a more fraternal society.”

Since our world first began to experience the devastating effects of the pandemic, Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded us that sins of indifference and neglect can be every bit as lethal as the coronavirus. Unless we use this crisis as an opportunity to care for one another and for our common home, the destruction caused by the pandemic will go far beyond its consequences for public health and the economy. It will be a worldwide spiritual malady whose effects will negatively influence our lives for generations.

The ultimate cure for this spiritual disease of callous neglect and indifference is charity. We find the greatest examples of this kind of caring in the ministry of Jesus.

As Pope Francis points out: “In his compassion, Christ drew near to the sick in body and spirit, and brought them healing; he pardoned sinners and gave them new life. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep [Jn 10:11-18; Ez 34:1-31]. He is the Good Samaritan who stoops to help the injured man, binds his wounds and cares for him [Lk 10:30-37]. At the culmination of his mission, Jesus gave the ultimate proof of his care for us by offering himself on the cross to set us free from the slavery of sin and death. By the sacrificial gift of his life, he opened for us the path of love. To each of us he says, ‘Follow me; go and do likewise’ ” (Lk 10:37).

As we begin this new year, let’s resolve to imitate Jesus in our commitment to care for each other. Let’s be true peacemakers working to build cultures of care in our homes, our neighborhoods, our nation and our world.

—Daniel Conway

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