On this second day of the triduum for the conversion of Saint Paul, we focus on a second theme in Pope Francis’s Message for World Day of Communications last year: going out to people on the periphery to bring the light of love and mercy. (Sorry for posting so late…I traveled from Boston to California today!)
Pope Francis has repeated many times this call of all the baptized to go out to those who are “on the margins” of human existence–spiritually, socially, economically, politically–any way that a person is excluded or alone. This call to go out, to reach out to others, has always been urgent but today seems even more so. For many of us, however, reaching out is not easy; it pushes us to go beyond our comfort zones.
Pope Francis lives this call to reach out to others with love, mercy, and truth. Saint Paul is one of the best all-time examples of living this call, as he tried to reach out to the entire known world with the Gospel, which required extensive travel at a time where traveling was not just exhausting but full of risks. In addition, he not only accepted non-Jewish converts (who were not so easily accepted in the earliest days of the Church), but sought them out. He was willing to undergo prison, beatings, persecution and even martyrdom, for the sake of bringing Christ to those who didn’t know him.
Reaching out to others requires going beyond our usual comfort zone, which can be challenging. It also demands that we let go of our assumptions about others, to listen attentively to others’ hopes, doubts, expectations, and joys. In so doing, we break down walls. True dialogue builds unity; it means discovering that we and those with whom we dialogue are the same; that in our shared humanity, we are more the same than different.
Speaking from the context of communications (and having recently mentioned social media), Pope Francis encourages us:
May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful “neighbors” to those wounded and left on the side of the road…. Today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ. In the area of communications, too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts.
Our reaching out is meant to be warm, tender, loving, radiating the beauty, truth, and goodness of God. When we read the letters of Saint Paul, we see how he uses language, imagery, and warmth to communicate his love in Christ. Scripture scholars tell us that Saint Paul used words in new ways, and even made up new terms to express the inexpressible mystery of living in Christ.
Simply reading the openings and closings of Saint Paul’s letters as he greets the various communities so warmly, often greeting people by name–reveals his tender warmth in communicating Christ’s love as it flows through his heart. (“I thank my God every time I remember you” Phil. 1:3.)
One of the passages that first showed me the tenderness of Paul’s pastoral heart is his prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21.
[I pray] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God. (Eph. 3: 17-19, RSV)
Our first communication is with God; having experienced the Lord’s tender mercy and truth, our next communication is with others. If we find it really hard to reach out to others, then a first step may be to pray for those on the margins in a tender and warm way, as Saint Paul does here. In his goodness, God will bless those for whom we pray, but will also bless us to increase the courage, wisdom, and grace we need to reach out further with his love.