In his recent book, Let Us Dream, Pope Francis writes:
“Jesus restores dignity to the people in acts and words that perform God’s closeness. No one is saved alone. Isolation is not part of our faith. God attracts us within a complex web of relationships and sends us out into the middle of the crossroads of history.”
The Holy Father is reflecting on the isolation many of us have experienced throughout the global pandemic and reminds us that we are called to relationship and to engage with our times, to share in the pain and difficulties, but also the joys and hopes, of people around the world, and not to avoid them or their needs.
He reminds us of the life and ministry of Jesus, especially encapsulated in today’s Gospel as Jesus reaches out to a person most despised by his own people at the time – the Roman centurion. Centurions weren’t typically known for their faith or humility – it is what seems to set this man apart. Most of them were very violent and they were part of an occupying army; no wonder they were so despised! Yet Jesus sees in him a faith that evokes praise. It was a radical thing to say to his own people that in this centurion he sees more faith than in his own people! Jesus saw through an oppressive, dehumanizing system and began to break it down in an act of compassion and healing.
And we also read of Jesus’ healing of many other people. As we hope and pray our nation and world may emerge fully from the pandemic, we have renewed appreciation for the quotation from the prophet Isaiah that reminds us how Jesus’ ministry has taken away our infirmities and carried our diseases and pains!
Perhaps we may also call to mind or pray for those who have helped bring healing and care to the sick over the past year – nurses, doctors, scientists. I would also add chaplains, priests, ministers, lay minsters, and so many others who have also tended to the spiritual needs of the sick and dying – and all of us as we have moved through these hard months. Let us give thanks for all of them who, like Jesus, responded to needs “at the crossroads of history” – as the Pope said.
Today’s readings also remind us that God’s abundant care and mercy often comes in unexpected forms – like an unexpected child in old age, as for Abraham and Sarah, or a chance encounter, a friendship renewed after a long time, reawakened faith, or when we see things in our society or world changing for the better, even in small ways. After all, who at the time would have thought that the child born to Abraham and Sarah would become the spring of life for the Jewish people – and spiritually for us as Christians as well?
It is good to take the time to remember these things, lest we laugh to ourselves and say that things never change. The truth is, sometimes we are more like Sarah than we often care to admit! But Pope Francis reminds us that what allows us to experience that newness is to be present to people in their lives and to respond to their needs in the same way Christ has responded – in abundant care and love, just as he shared in the love poured out from the Father.
May the prayer of our Blessed Mother – the Maginficat – proclaimed in today’s psalm be a reminder to us of how God is always at work in our lives, and invites us to lavish love, compassion and care of others “in the middle of the crossroads of history.”
God give you peace!