For the past several months I've been reading the Facebook posts that show up on my Timeline. Various people in my family with a variety of political opinions post there frequently. As I've thought about the different statements that have been made I felt that somehow I've lost my voice. I'm not good at debate. I don't think well on my feet. I didn't feel inclined to come up with the magisterial statement that would clarify everything (as if that were possible!). By saying nothing, however, I have felt a bit guilty that I have not contributed to the conversation in a constructive way. I feel uneasy entering into a conversation in which the terms have been set by politics, uneasy about wading into a conversation where the pervading ideology is that progress is made through political decisions and movements.
And so I've waited. And waited. And wondered. And asked, sought, knocked. And waited.
The question is more than a personal one. It is not really about my Facebook Page or today's news programs and current political issues. The question strikes to the heart of what it means to be Pauline. What is it that we have to offer the world, today's world, with all its crises and transformations and complexity?
Today, I read Pope Francis' Message for the 54th World Day of Prayer for Vocations (which we celebrate on the 4th Sunday of Easter). In it the Pope said two things that are not new or novel, but which cut through the noise and clearly point out two illusions and two solutions with regard to this question.
The First Illusion and Solution
This is the first illusion he points out: "The questions lurking in human hearts and the real challenges of life can make us feel bewildered, inadequate and hopeless. The Christian mission might appear to be mere utopian illusion or at least something beyond our reach."
This is the first solution: "Yet if we contemplate the risen Jesus walking alongside the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-15), we can be filled with new confidence. In that Gospel scene, we have a true 'liturgy of the street,' preceding that of the word and the breaking of the bread. We see that, at every step of the way, Jesus is at our side! The two disciples, overwhelmed by the scandal of the cross, return home on the path of defeat. Their hearts are broken, their hopes dashed and their dreams shattered. The joy of the Gospel has yielded to sadness. What does Jesus do? He does not judge them, but walks with them. Instead of raising a wall, he opens a breach. Gradually he transforms their discouragement. He makes their hearts burn within them, and he opens their eyes by proclaiming the word and breaking the bread. In the same way, a Christian does not bear the burden of mission alone, but realizes, even amid weariness and misunderstanding, that 'Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him. He senses Jesus alive with him in the midst of the missionary enterprise' (Evangelii Gaudium, 266)."
This "liturgy of the street" is a fantastic image of the mission of the Daughters of St Paul. We have a voice. It is the voice of the Good Shepherd who is with each person in our orbit, each person who reads our books, encounters us on social media, listens to and prays with our music, watches our videos or listens to radio programs or podcasts. It is a liturgy outside the Temple conducted where we walk beside humanity whose hearts are broken, whose hopes for a world of peace are dashed and whose personal dreams have been shattered. It is a liturgy that opens up a bridge from sadness to joy. It is a liturgy not a campaign promise or a political maneuver. It is the reality that God is with us and that all of us are but sheep. If we beat each other over the head with our personal opinions and agendas we truly have nothing to say. But if we speak from the silence in which the heart of Jesus gives us voice, then we have in our words the love the world most needs to hear.
The Second Illusion and Solution
Illusion two identified by Pope Francis: What we are witnessing in our communication styles--from as large a movement as ISIS to something as simple as a Facebook post or blog comment--is often not so much concern with truth but the indulgence of passion. He says, "At times, even with the best intentions, we can indulge in a certain hunger for power, proselytism or intolerant fanaticism."
Solution two: "Yet the Gospel tells us to reject the idolatry of power and success, undue concern for structures, and a kind of anxiety that has more to do with the spirit of conquest than that of service. The seed of the Kingdom, however tiny, unseen and at times insignificant, silently continues to grow, thanks to God’s tireless activity." We don't need to have the perfect response that will put everyone in their place or one that will powerfully persuade others. We need to be sure we are planting the tiny, insignificant seeds of the Gospel which characteristically grow in surprising ways with little thanks to our own human efforts.
Good Shepherd Sunday is a perfect day to reclaim our position as sheep in a kingdom that is not of this world. Not of this world, no; but this world desperately craves the freshness of the perfumed breezes of the eternal pastures. "Despite a widespread sense that the faith is listless or reduced to mere 'duties to discharge,' our young people [and the rest of us] desire to discover the perennial attraction of Jesus, to be challenged by his words and actions, and to cherish the ideal that he holds out of a life that is fully human, happy to spend itself in love."
Each of us, as "followers of the great apostle Paul," can live this 'liturgy of the street' wherever we find ourselves, right now. We have a voice, a song, a path, a promise. His name is Jesus.