Combatting the globalization of indifference

In his Lenten message, Pope Francis resurrected a phrase that we first heard him speak in the summer of 2013 - the "globalization of indifference." While addressing immigrants in Lampedusa, Pope Francis remarked that a globalized society, one that is so connected in so many profitable ways, also suffers from a collective malaise when it comes to addressing the needs of the weakest and most vulnerable. "Today no one in the world feels responsible ... we have lost the sense of fraternal responsibility," the Holy Father said about a communal apathy toward those who suffer. This phrase, of course, should make us think of the social dimension of sin that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI often emphasized in his pontificate. Just as there can be a collective effort for good, so can there be a communal participation in sin.

According to Pope Francis, we must all ask ourselves the question that the Lord asked Abel: "Where is your brother?" This Lent, I enjoin you to consider honestly this question in your prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

First, we must pray to have our eyes opened so that we recognize our neighbors in need, and secondly respond to them. "I pray that your hearts might be enlightened …" says St. Paul (Eph 1:8). How easy is it to go throughout our day and to have the poor, hungry and lonely shielded from our sight! Do we realize how, in our day-to-day life, we can go days or weeks without thinking about those who are uncomfortable, who are desperately in need? It can so easily happen: We forget the many who go without, who struggle to find food, relationships or employment when our own needs are met. Calling to mind those who are poor requires a heart that is sensitive, a heart that knows that every good thing comes from above, a heart that realizes that we are all dependent upon the Lord's generosity and loving care.

However, there are times when we actually confront poverty and suffering in our neighborhoods, and we choose to pass by it - perhaps out of apathy, perhaps at times because we are overwhelmed by the gravity of what we see. So often during an ordinary commute in our area, we encounter a man or woman humbly asking for help or assistance on the sidewalk. Do we take the opportunity to look our brothers and sisters in the eye, to offer at least a compassionate smile?

How easy it is to pass by the poverty and suffering in our neighborhoods when we are busy and distracted! How much time do we spend in front of screens, wrapped up in a virtual community when real people, in the flesh, are in our midst and can be readily seen? These are the moments in which the Holy Father's message should ring in our ears: "I want a church that is poor and for the poor!"

While prayer is the first step in helping us to see Christ in our neighbors, fasting and other forms of penance aid us in better understanding their suffering. Throughout the ages, saints have outlined the spiritual benefits that come from various forms of penance, including fasting. When we discipline our appetites for things in the world - food, pleasure, or comfort - we more easily understand that we can control our desires, that they do not control us. But we also understand the plight of many people in our midst - those whose hunger is not self-imposed, those who must hope for the goodwill and charity of others to provide them with what they desperately need. Fasting disposes us to be attentive to our deepest desires, while at the same time fostering solidarity with our sisters and brothers. With prayer, we see. With fasting, we feel. We must feel - in our hearts and in our bones - the suffering of those whom Christ loves so dearly.

Pray, fast. And then give. Almsgiving is the third and final way in which we can combat the globalization of indifference. Almsgiving does not merely involve writing a check or putting money in someone's hands. It is characterized by a heart that longs to give itself away in the service of others. Yes, that gift may well be in the form of monetary tithing. But it might also be a compassionate look, or spending time with another, or using our talents for another's welfare. If you are wondering where to start, I encourage you and your family to participate in the Rice Bowl Initiative from Catholic Relief Services. Your neighbors are hungry for food, but they are also hungry for love.

This Lent, let us discover what moves our hearts with pity. Actually, we shall discover that it is not "what" but "who" - those who up to now have been "invisible." Let us respond to them with love that knows no condition, no limit, no indifference. Let us love as we are loved!

Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @Bishop_Loverde.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015