Commentary: Highway to the danger zone
Remember MacGyver? He was the fictional television secret agent of 1980s television who would get out of world-threatening jams using only duct tape and a Swiss Army knife. Listening to Pope Francis in Korea the other day, I had some flashbacks to the prime-time show.
Pope Francis, who has described the church as a field hospital, doesn’t even need hardware-store items; he bandages wounds with invitations to the Gospel and the sacraments of the church.
As Christians and other religious minorities are being forced out of Iraq; as tear gas was used on protesters after the death of an unarmed young man in Missouri; as news reports continued to go into graphic detail about the suicide of the beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams; as North Koreans couldn’t attend any of his Masses in their divided country, Pope Francis pointed to hope.
He said: “The hope held out by the Gospel is the antidote to the spirit of despair that seems to grow like a cancer in societies which are outwardly affluent, yet often experience inner sadness and emptiness. Upon how many of our young has this despair taken its toll! May they, the young who surround us in these days with their joy and confidence, never be robbed of their hope!”
Again and again, the Pope repeats some variation of what he said in Korea: Do not let yourself be robbed of hope. For there is theft happening all around us, as the recent news shows: theft of dignity, of our freedoms and even of our lives.
In civilization that has become so secularized — even hostile — to real religious faith, Pope Francis reminds Christians that living their faith in the public square — in every aspect of life — and sharing it is part of their Gospel mandate. Also, do not be robbed, he’s said, of “community” and “fraternal love,” and, perhaps most importantly, joy.
“The human heart aspires to great things, to important values, to profound friendships, bonds that are strengthened rather than broken by the trials of life,” Pope Francis said earlier this summer. “Human beings aspire to be loved, and to be loved definitively. Do not let yourselves be robbed of the desire to construct great and solid things in your lives! Do not be satisfied with half-measures!”
Standing in the bar car of an Amtrak train that was going backward in the Northeast the other night, (which might be a better metaphor for life than I could have come up with on my own), — I talked to a weary young man in his early 30s, who explained that he got married in the church but hasn’t been to Mass since, talked about what “a stand-up guy” Pope Francis is, dubbing him “the boss.”
Warm feelings abound about Francis, certainly. But what is the Pope saying? His point is that we were created for a life so much better than the one we’re currently living. Not pain-free, mind you, but one where suffering matters, where it is redemptive.
If a few more of us lived Christian hope, the rest of the world might see the difference and want it for themselves, or at least want people of real religious faith around. Until then, Western culture will become increasingly intolerant of people who want to live their faith in the world.
For the sake of Christians the world over who will live and die for their faith, we ought to work some MacGyver moves of our own, joining Pope Francis in trying to end the highway robbery that we’ve brought upon ourselves, and even acquiesced to. The highway to heaven is a whole lot better.