Pray With the Pope: June 2020
Proclaim The Love Of The Lord
Pope’s Prayer Intention for June, 2020: We pray that all those who suffer may find their way in life, allowing themselves to be touched by the heart of Jesus.
When I was young and thought I could save the world, I received a memorable dose of reality by working with some profoundly mentally and physically challenged patients in a hospital run by the St John of God Brothers in Yorkshire, England.
Many of the patients were severely damaged in their physical and mental capacities, and there appeared no prospect of repairing the damage, no complete healing ever. Here I came face to face with the stark mystery of suffering.
There are no glib or easy answers when one is confronted by these most distressing manifestations of the human condition—permanent physical and mental illness.
Another placement that I did in my religious formation was to work at a hospice for the dying, one of the first of its kind, run by the legendary pioneer of the hospice movement, Cecily Saunders.
Again, my youthful utopianism took a severe beating when I had to confront the ultimate and terrible mystery of death.
This, despite the incredibly inspiring atmosphere of Christian hope and palpable joy that Saunders fostered in this most impressive institution.
Bishop Robert Barron makes the point in one of his YouTube presentations that given the reality of original sin and its results, what humankind needs is not so much a teacher but rather a saviour. I couldn’t articulate it like that back then, but I think that is what I dimly understood.
Teachers and reformers are valuable, especially great religious teachers, (and Jesus was certainly the greatest of them)—but all the teaching in the world, all the greatest ideas, cannot ultimately free us from the fundamental brokenness of the human condition.
We need the Jesus who does what his name means: Saviour. We need him to save us from our own sin, the sin of the world, and from death.
And if we pay attention in the Christian community, we can catch glimpses of how Jesus actually does this in the lives of those who find and follow him, among those who allow themselves to be touched by his heart.
We quite often meet people who by every human standard should be in despair, so severely do they suffer, and yet they are radiant with hope, and they somehow find the presence of Christ very powerfully in their daily struggles.
The most astonishing example of this for me while I was at the hospice was when I witnessed a woman of deep faith coming to the end of her life, comforting her distraught family.
They had come to support her in her final illness but they were falling apart and she reversed the roles, becoming the comforter herself with the strength and assurance of someone deeply rooted in the love of God.
There are other, perhaps less dramatic examples. “Jesus calms your nerves,” a young man who was suffering from mental illness once told me.
Barring a miracle, he was never going to be healed in any recognisable medical way, and yet this profound sense that in prayer to Jesus he could find some calm and some peace was, I thought, a foretaste here and now of that freedom that he would ultimately find when he would be made whole in the liberating love of the Lord’s heart in the life to come.
We Christian believers are called to mediate the love of the Lord’s heart to believers and non-believers alike.
Perhaps this time of pandemic can serve as a reminder of this. Despite the fact that we cannot go and proclaim the love of Christ out on the streets, we have the means to touch others through the warmth of the human voice, electronically relayed of course.
There is probably someone we know, someone feeling isolated, who would welcome our voice and our listening ear, and who would thereby be touched by the heart of Christ through our ministry