by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
[Ed. Note: We’re thrilled to have Joe join us as a weekly contributor to the website. This is his first contribution to his new weekly column, “Hope and Challenge”. Look for a new column every Thursday. Welcome Joe!]
This first column of “Hope and Challenge” draws from two wonderful reflections on this unique moment in history together with the memory of Jesus’ resurrection. One is from our own Pax Christi USA Bishop-President, John Stowe, OFM, Conv. And the second is from the Easter message of Pope Francis.
Bishop Stowe underscores what we are all feeling in these frightful days of the pandemic: vulnerability. The vulnerability Jesus exhibited throughout his public life and particularly at the end when he was arrested, found “guilty”, tortured and executed. And a new, unsettling feeling of vulnerability we Americans are experiencing in a culture which tells us to rely on our own personal resources. Bishop John urges us to “embrace our vulnerability” as Jesus did, rather than deny it or try to avoid it.
Pope Francis does not back away an inch from this same vulnerability now facing the entire human family. He speaks clearly of an uncertain future, of jobs that are at risk, humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, the dangers of widespread contagion, and the multitudes of poor people around the world who are particularly in danger of contamination.
At the same time, the pope and Bishop Stowe remind the People of God that despite these ominous times we are the community which believes and celebrates the ultimate triumph of life over death which Christ’s resurrection signifies, not only for ourselves but for the entire human family. This belief gives us the capacity to stir up HOPE in ourselves, that strong and positive virtue which comes from the Holy Spirit, and one which we are called to cultivate and strengthen. In addition it makes us ready, as the letter of St. Peter urges, to give an explanation … for our reason for hope (1 Peter 3:15).
I take two intertwined and crucial lessons from these reflections. The first is, as so many are pointing out, we are now and always sisters and brothers in the human family. To paraphrase St. Paul, we are not rich or poor individuals, strong or weak women and men, developed or underdeveloped nations. We are ultimately dependent, vulnerable human beings, living for a time on this earth, contingent, fragile and entirely mortal.
This realization which the coronavirus is impressing on us in such unexpected ways drives home a second lesson: that we must emerge from this global threat dedicated to very different personal lifestyles, to entirely new equitable and generous policies as a nation, and to settling our international differences nonviolently. In the short run it means that in this world of privilege, we in this American Empire, cannot in conscience declare the pandemic over for us, forget the rest of the world and return without concern to our former ways of living.
Said another way, despite the fears and tragedies which the pandemic has produced and will doubtless continue to cause, this is a kairos moment. That is, a special opportunity for decision and action; a moment of opportunity; a moment, if seized, after which nothing will ever be the same again; or, in terms of our faith, an appointed time for the purposes of God.
From its beginning the Pax Christi movement has dreamt and striven for a time like this. We never imagined it would come in this fearsome way, but I believe the moment is no less than a kairos for people of faith and for all women and men of good will.
To return, then, to Pope Francis. His entire papacy has been a call for global change, toward an entirely new order of things. In forthcoming reflections on “Hope and Challenge”, I will try to call attention to the specifics of what the Holy Father and others like Bishop Stowe, and indeed the good news of the Gospel itself, continue to call us to. And what this will mean for the world going forward – nothing less than a new way of being human.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.