Recently, Pope Francis challenged contemporary society when he said, “We need to ask God for the gift of tears. Tears lead to softening of hearts. Tears purify how we look at others. Tears help us see the cycle of sin into which we often sink. Tears sensitize our gaze of our attitudes, hardened in the face of another’s suffering. They are tears that can open us to conversion, change of heart.”
It seems patently clear that, like the Pope, every priest could do well to encourage his parishioners to join him in a cry or two these days.
In the midst of all the squabbles, debates, ruckuses, protests, shouting matches, smears, name-calling, divisions and violence, the preacher of the Gospel is challenged to call his people to respond by means of the gift of tears.
A Year of Wild, Raucous Politics
During a year of wild, raucous and rank behavior, justified in the name of politics, the Church must not stand idly by. It seems we are witnessing the disappearance of decency in our society. Violence surrounds us — verbal and physical.
Whatever a person’s political party, social status, ethnicity or devotional life, we all face the challenge to listen closely to what the Lord is trying to break through and tell us.
It seems He is urging us to cry over the self-destructive behavior of so many that is ripping the fabric of society. We need to commit ourselves to upholding the dignity and worth of every human being from womb to tomb, never tiring to preach it and teach it.
Michelangelo, the great Italian Renaissance artist, could look at a discarded block of marble, and see beneath the cold, lifeless, formless stone something precious. Michelangelo could transform a useless hunk of discarded marble into something beautiful because he saw what was locked within.
As preachers of the Gospel, we cannot repeat enough in these darkened times the saving truth contained in the simple quote from the Catechism: “every human being is created in the image and likeness of God.”
We can never tire of repeating the truth that, locked up within each of us, is something good, noble and beautiful. Regardless of differences in politics, religion or other areas, like Michelangelo we have to see within everyone something beautiful created by God. It is high time for us to cry out from the pulpit, “Now is the time for us to rediscover civility, decency and respect for each human being, created in the Lord’s image and likeness!”
It is easy to become imprisoned in our own conception of who people are. We become judgmental; we see only the surface. We make hasty evaluations of someone’s goodness or badness. We judge the acceptability of others by worldly standards, reducing people to a political party, religious affiliation or ethnic background. Priests too can be guilty of this.
The Lord challenges us to preach the common brotherhood and sisterhood of all humanity — irrespective of party, race or religion. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is a great exemplar of this truth, and he preaches it by his life as well as by his words. A great challenge for every priest is here. Who cannot shed tears for innocent victims of terrorism — Christian and non-Christian alike? A cry from the pulpit is in order: “God have mercy on our world, steeped in violence.”
I recall the story of a writer who one day met a beggar who was asking for money:
I felt in all of my pockets, but there was nothing there. The beggar waited. His outstretched hand twitched and trembled slightly.
Embarrassed and confused, I seized his dirty hand and pressed it. “Do not be angry with me, brother,” I lamented. “I have nothing with me.”
The beggar raised his bloodshot eyes and smiled. “You called me brother,” he said. “That was a gift enough for me.”
Yes, as brothers who preach the Gospel to other brothers and sisters, now is the time to cry tears of a softened heart. Now is the time for us to urge our parishioners to purify the way we look at others. Today, in this election year, we are being called to shed tears — and to urge others to “sensitize our gaze,” as the Pope says, “in the face of another’s suffering.”
Today there are many hurting souls in America and in the world at large. During this election year it would be an act of great courage as priests to join our people in shedding a few tears — not of despair but of great hope. These are tears which betoken a new beginning of mutual respect for every human being created in the image and likeness of God. Never tire of preaching and praying for, as Pope Francis puts it, the “gift of tears.”
MSGR. CHIODO, a priest of the Diocese of Des Moines, is pastor at St. Anthony in Des Moines, Iowa.