When life hands us something that causes us to question everything, it is bewildering. It seems to me that I am running into more and more folks who are bitter. Rather than finding more balance, folks just seem to be more overwhelmed through our present time. This pandemic with no vaccine or cure, spreading unemployment, economic insecurity for millions, divisions in our nation, blatant racism, and the upending of education for a whole generation: these uncertainties, stress, and suffering are trying our souls. They seem to be leading us away from the peace Christ offers and turning us more into ourselves. Rather than listening to one another, people seem to be simply thinking up a retort to win the argument. We don’t seem to be doing anything except participating more and more in the craziness. One thing has become painfully clear, even if we do not want to acknowledge it: We need each other; and our radical commitment to one another and our willingness to collaborate are critical to our survival. We need to listen. This year should be all about courageous listening and change.
Many seem to be worrying only about ourselves and others are simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic; rather than addressing the hard questions God is asking: “How will I commit myself to what really matters? Where should I devote my time, energy, and talents to make a lasting, positive impact on the world? What is Jesus calling forth from me?” Something has to change. We have to change. Empowered by our call from Jesus, we are to place ourselves in the service of something beyond ourselves. The Lord is calling for a change, a change in our hearts, our choices, and our actions. We are called to look at the world in a new way: trying to love it as God loves it, caring for it and for one another. Our Lord’s life offers us a courageous and hope-filled way forward. Our present situation seems to be identifying all that is not working in our world, but we need to creatively orient ourselves toward a better way.
How will we know what makes a better way? The next stage in the process of courageous change involves genuine, caring relationships that awaken us to the beauty, fragility, and goodness of life. They help us to experience God in those spaces of encounter. They call us to listen and to ask “Do I really have the right to pursue my own interests when others suffer so greatly? What does my connection with those who suffer mean in my daily life—what I eat or wear, whom I work for, and what I do or refuse to do?” These questions should gnaw at us and allow us to rely on the profound grace God offers and address his invitation to change.
Change means nothing unless we put what we have learned into action. The present state of things should be eye opening. As we become aware of the suffering of so many people everywhere, are we changing? Is the present state of our world, the vulnerability it generates and the intensity of human need that it exposes, motivating us do something? Everything we have is a gift from God. There is a purpose and reason for our existence. God calls us to this, to true discipleship. Ultimately our listening to him can give us the courage, motivation, and discipline to make a real break with past patterns and forge something new, if we listen.
How should we begin? Our prayer should be: “Lord give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and above all courage to change.” This allows us to choose love rather than fear. As we see and listen, we begin to discover the patterns, habits, and systems that have not supported the loving response to which Christ is calling us. Thomas Merton said that the first step of the interior life is to “unlearn our wrong ways of seeing, in order to acquire a few of the right ones.” Let’s begin to see and listen in a new way and allow God and those in need to show us how we should respond to the pressing questions of our day.