Memories of God’s love can overcome despair
Catholic Christians have a responsibility to remind others of all the amazing things God has done to revere and foster life as an antidote to the often overwhelming darkness of the world’s “violence and hatred,” Passionist Father Donald Senior, a nationally respected Scripture scholar, told the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference Jan. 8.
Father Senior, president emeritus and chancellor of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, gave the keynote presentation on “God-Given Dignity: Respecting All of Life” to open the three-day conference, which attracted more than 1,000 catechists, religion teachers,
religious and clergy from throughout the Gulf South.
The Old and New Testaments and recent encyclicals by Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis are teeming with stories about the dignity of life, Father Senior said.
It is ironic, he said, that one of “the most memorable phrases” often cited by those who have read St. John Paul II’s encyclical, “The Gospel of Life,” is “the culture of death.”
“The pope had in mind the cultural attitude that failed to protect the most vulnerable of lives, particularly those of the unborn,” Father Senior said. “But in the course of his encyclical, he referred to other examples of the assault on the dignity and sacredness of human life, euthanasia and capital punishment.
“If we think about the culture of death today, surely we would think of the threat of terrorism, the calamities in the Middle East, the wanton violence of ISIS.”
Violence and death are endemic in major U.S. cities, he said, and questions have been raised about violence “perpetrated even by those who are sworn to uphold the law and protect our citizens,” Father Senior said.
One of the gifts of St. John Paul’s writings was to focus not on violence and death “but on the gift of life itself, which the pope af rms stands at the very center of our Chris- tian faith and the meaning of the Gospel.”
Prime Christian duty
“Life, not death, is God’s nal gift to the world,” Father Senior said. “Therefore, the fostering of life and the defense against assaults on life are prime Christian responsibilities, a responsibility that extends across the whole span of human existence, from the beginning of life at conception to the conclusion of human life in death with dignity.”
With his encyclical “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis has “extended the horizon of our concern for life to the whole of the earth, to our common home,” Father Senior said earth.
“There is no doubt among any of us,” Father Senior said. “We know the responsibility to foster life, to protect life, is at the center of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Bible affirms that God is the source and end point of all life. God, in fact, is the epicenter of life itself. What does life mean? Everything that is vibrant, beautiful, free, dynamic, joyful, vital, desirable, coherent, nourishing and lasting. It’s the polar opposite of being dead.”
The Genesis accounts of creation reveal a God who breathes life into humans.
“We are made in God’s image and likeness, which sets the human person apart from all other forms of life and creation. The human person is able to communicate and respond in kind to God, to love and live in the Spirit of God. It’s remarkable to even say it, but the Scripture proclaims that we are like God.”
Church as a ‘field hospital’
The violence, poverty and hunger in the world can cause Christians to feel overwhelmed and question the presence of God, Father Senior said. Pope Francis has honed in on this dilemma by insisting that the church must serve as “a field hospital” to those who are struggling, Father Senior said.
One of his favorite quotes from Pope Francis described how a doctor or nurse would treat a badly wounded person on the battlefield. “They wouldn’t ask him if he had high cholesterol,” Father Senior said.
Healing physical, emotional and spiritual wounds was at the core of Jesus’ mission.
“Pope Francis’ description of the church as a eld hospital – embracing those on the periphery – is radically biblical,” Father Senior said. “He says the church itself should be a sacrament of healing and inclusion.”
In his New Year’s reflection, Pope Francis urged Christians to “remember the good deeds they had done or observed” so as not to let the “memories of violence and hatred overwhelm us.”
“Thinking about good deeds is an antidote to the virus of violence,” Father Senior said. “Remembering can be a powerful Christian action in fostering the dignity of life.”
Father Senior cited a book he had read during his mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease – “Forgetting Whose We Are: Alzheimer’s Disease and the Love of God” by David Keck.
“There are some Gospel truths from the experience of Alzheimer’s,” Father Senior said. “We’re not as autonomous as we think we are. We come into this world fully dependent on others, and we leave fully dependent on others.”
God: The eternal caregiver
The caregiver, Keck said, has the duty to supply the memory of the person because “over time, the Alzheimer’s patient forgets his own special story. Even if a patient forgets everything under the ravages of the disease, the faithful caregiver does not.”
Father Senior said Keck asserts that in a similar way, “the Christian community must be thought of as the caregiver to God’s world. Even people who seem to be healthy in every respect can forget who they truly are.
“As caregivers, using this metaphor, the Christian must not forget and must reach out to the world with esteem and respect,” Father Senior said. “We must be caregivers to a world that seems to have lost its way.”