In his New Year’s sermon this month, Pope Francis said this: “At the beginning of the year, we too, as Christians on our pilgrim way, feel the need to set out anew from the center, to leave behind the burdens of the past and to start over from the things that really matter.” (Emphasis mine) What a hopeful and wise message the Pope offers to us, not just Christians, but all people yearning for meaning in life, light in darkness, respite from burdens, a fresh start involving what is truly important.
However that leaves us with a couple of questions, doesn’t it? The first has to do with figuring out what our center is. A related question follows: What is truly important? The key word here is “truly”. Do we find our deepest value and meaning in ideologies, trends, fads, party platforms, biases, habit, comfort, law, social media? That seems a bit superficial, doesn’t it, since all those things change as rapidly as the winter weather in Montana? It’s hard to be centered on something that shifts and changes all the time. A center needs to be solid, substantial, like rock — not like the shifting sands of culture or whim.
Somehow it seems that a substantial center also must be focused on more than myself. For many people the center is a network of relationships guided by and centered on a divine presence, an other, who provides boundaries and structures of ethical and moral relevance. A different way of saying that, perhaps, is that we need a center which embraces all peoples and all of creation, leaving out nothing and no one. This center is not a material one, but one we experience spiritually. It is more than an attitude or a set of beliefs. It is a lived experience of one who is itself a swirl of relationships; one who cradles all of creation, all women and men, in this relationship; one who invites all that exists into a living flow where all are equal and all are valued, all are part of the one and all are loved and cherished equally.
With that center, what are the burdens we leave behind? We discard whatever divides and separates us. We distance ourselves from demonizing, dishonesty, lies, hatred, racism, directions embedded in violence, sexism, all forms of inequality and inequity, fear. We deplore the fact that millions are hungry every day, that the unborn are often not given a chance at life, that children are homeless and abandoned, that our elderly are warehoused, that those who are different in any way are discriminated against and considered less than, that women continue to be treated as less valuable than men, that refugees are treated as non-persons.
So where do we start over? What are the things that really matter? Baseline: it is loving one another and all of creation, beginning with the planet we inhabit. It is recognizing and acknowledging, actively and concretely, that we are all one, sisters and brothers in the one from whom we derive life. When one of us suffers, we all suffer because we are all in relationship with each other. When one is discriminated against, we all suffer that discrimination because our relationship with the one bonds us with them. Jesus said it all: Whatever you do or don’t do, you do to me. I believe we can paraphrase that: Whatever you do or don’t do to anyone or anything, you do to one another. Will we continue to cut off our nose to spite our face?