By Frank Wessling
It’s been an interesting two weeks since we last met here. Catholic faith and vision are getting more attention as Pope Francis continues to behave like a happy reconciler.
For us Catholics he brought together two streams of Church life — let’s call them the settlers and the explorers — by declaring that his predecessors, Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, would be made saints together. You can decide which pope belongs in which stream — or how each contributed to both streams.
Francis also published an encyclical on faith (Lumen Fidei) that says when we know love, we know faith. Apparently, if we take love seriously, we are in a relationship that can also be named faith. When this relationship rules us and illuminates all reality, we become open, we see differently, together and deeply, and we find a universal truth which reconciles everything.
In other words, be careful and alert in love: It is God’s hiding place.
The last two weeks also brought more hard evidence that the poorest, most vulnerable Americans are taking the biggest hit from our Great Recession. The people who clean and cook and serve for us, those who clean up and care for us when we’re feeble — the minimum-wage and low-wage masses — are paid at least 5 percent less today than they were four or five years ago.
In fact, the median wage for all American workers declined by 2.8 percent between 2009 and 2012. This took place during a time when productivity across the economy increased by 4.5 percent. In the same period, income of the top earners went up by more than 10 percent, corporations sat on mountains of cash, and when they did invest, the money went toward innovation that reduced the need for human labor. Unemployment remained stuck around 7 percent.
In other words, the very well off are going one direction while the rest go another.
This is nothing to be satisfied about. And to the extent that it continues because policy-makers stand on the side of the rich and powerful, it is against the Gospel. It is behavior like the priest and the Levite ignoring the wounded man by the side of the road in last Sunday’s Gospel story.
Pope Francis might see it as part of a “globalization of indifference” to suffering among the little people. He used that language in his homily during a Mass last week on the island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean. It’s a destination for people fleeing in small boats from the turmoil in North Africa and hoping for safety and a better life in Italy. Most of these desperate people are sent back as Italy tries to control the migrant flow around it, much like the U.S.
“Today no one in the world feels responsible for this,” the pope said. “We have lost the sense of fraternal responsibility. The culture of well-being that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others, that makes us live in soap bubbles that are beautiful but are nothing — [this culture] brings indifference to others, even the globalization of indifference.
“We are accustomed to the suffering of others. It doesn’t concern us; it’s none of our business.”
Christian faith, which is a love relationship, would not accept the suffering of others without somehow entering it. We would be with all suffering others, not indifferent to them; part of their seeking, not against it.