We are familiar with Jesus’ words: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40) and “love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mk 12:31).
Yet what do these words mean in the midst of a pandemic? Of course, love takes many and varied forms depending on the circumstances in which it finds itself. We ask ourselves, “What is the most loving thing to do in the reality of the here and now, within the limits of what is possible?”
During the pandemic, we have asked for prayers for our loved ones who are sick, lonely or in need. These same needs are very much felt in other parts of the world too and voices there are similarly raised in prayer. A woman from Niger, supported by the work of CAFOD, said that she did not feel alone anymore knowing that people in England and Wales were praying for her. She was so moved and said that she too was praying for us – what a wonderful example of interconnectedness and solidarity!
What does it mean to be church? Pope Benedict XVI emphasised that
“To be Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.” (Deus Caritas Est, 25).
Pope Francis never tires of reminding us of the interconnectedness of everything. In both Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti (FT), he urges us to recognise that we have a common home in which we all belong as brothers and sisters, so that when one suffers, we all suffer. The virus itself is blind to religion, nation, power or wealth. It is the way our world is structured that makes some suffer more than others.
In FT, Pope Francis uses the parable of the Good Samaritan as a way to address this issue. In light of the parable, he asks how we might look at all people as our brothers and sisters made in the image of God. Many of us have seen outpourings of solidarity and compassion in our immediate locality, with neighbours looking after each other through the worst of times.
We also may have felt our love for family and friends intensify as we fear for their health and safety. Pope Francis now invites us to let this love spill-over to those beyond our immediate sight, to our sisters and brothers in our global family. Can we allow love to transcend borders and boundaries (the global calling), without destroying cultures (our local roots)?
“Isolation and withdrawal into one’s own interests are never the way to restore hope and bring about renewal. Rather, it is closeness; it is the culture of encounter.” (FT 30)
Likewise, when we hear inspiring stories of how our brothers and sisters seek to restore dignity in the face of poverty, crisis or injustice, we too may be empowered to act locally. For example, if you are a zero-hours cleaner and heard the story of Adan and the Bolivian rubbish collectors organising to ensure fair treatment and safety, borne out the value of all human beings, you might be encouraged to do something with colleagues to have your voices heard too. In such ways, our understanding of both our own situation and that of our brothers and sisters worldwide may be transformed.
While it may be said that charity begins at home, home is the whole world. We are all invited to participate in this work of charity. Everyone has something to offer and receive whatever their circumstance. This does not always have to be financial.
Yet it is often those who are struggling, who understand the plight of those in dire need and are keen to give their support even if it means fundraising for the cause. There are however other ways of giving of oneself: in prayer, in raising one’s voice in the face of injustice and encouraging others to give of themselves.
Time and again through our charitable acts, we encounter and come to know Jesus. We need to be creative and find new ways to evangelise. Jesus said to Peter:
“Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.” “Master,” Peter replied, “we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.” (Luke 5:4ff)
The result? A miraculous catch of fish! We may feel that we have laboured, suffered and sacrificed all these weeks and months and for what? We are faced with difficulties and hardships. Who knows? God knows! So we have to try to be brave, not heed our wavering instincts and stay by the safety of the shore but answer the Lord’s call and put out into the deep. How exciting! If only we believe that God’s spirit is with us! As Pope Francis says, re ‘Fraternity between all men and women”, “Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure.”‘ (FT, 8)
Sometimes action – generous, even self-sacrificial – is required of us. At other times, we are asked to walk a different path. Our main way of expressing love for others and our world is to pray for them and surrender what we cannot do or control to God.
Whatever our situation and whatever means are at our disposal, we might ask ourselves how best we can respond humanly and compassionately to the needs of our brothers and sisters – not just those we see around us, but those beyond our immediate sight. What is the most loving thing to do in the reality of my here and now, within its human limits and its divine possibilities? What is certain is that no expression of love however small is wasted. As Pope Francis puts it:
No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force. Sometimes it seems that our work is fruitless, but mission is not like a business transaction or investment … it is something much deeper, which escapes all measurement … The Holy Spirit works as he wills, when he wills and where he wills. (Evangelii Gaudium 279)
Many thanks to Debs Purfield CAFOD’s CPC in Northampton Diocese for sharing these reflections.