St. Paul: Walking Beside the World

PaulandPeterToday is the third day of our triduum of preparation for the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Pope Francis’s Message for 2015’s World Day of Communication has already been released, (which I hope to get to on Monday), but I’d like to conclude with a short reflection on last year’s message.

Towards the end of his 2014 Message, Pope Francis continues to apply his call to the Church to “accompany the world” on its journey specifically in the world of communication. “We are called to show that the Church is the home of all,” and “Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world. The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ.”

For me, Pope Francis continues the calls that I heard so clearly from St. John Paul and Pope Emeritus Benedict: to truly and vibrantly engage with our culture! If we as Catholics indiscriminately avoid using the media, or we divorce how we live our faith from our how we use the media, then our media culture is greatly impoverished; even worse, it can become a void where the beauty, goodness, and truth of Christ are absent.

So what does it mean to “accompany” the world? What does it mean to walk at the side of the world?

For Saint Paul, it literally meant walking to new places to communicate Christ, and to sojourn in each place for extended periods of time, to “bring Christ to birth” in the people who received him. When he couldn’t be physically present, he would accompany them through prayer, by sending representatives who could encourage them, and through his active correspondence. It didn’t matter what difficulties Paul ran into: he never “abandoned” those to whom he proclaimed Christ.

A number of years ago, I was privileged to accompany one of our sisters on her journey towards eternity. During the last two years of her life as her illness progressed, I tried to be her “guardian angel,” helping her with the mundane tasks that had become too difficult for her, staying in touch with her family and updating them on her condition, praying with her when prayer became difficult. Accompanying her was a tremendous gift for me, as a human being and but also spiritually, as I witnessed God’s tender love for her and her wholehearted response to him, in the face of death. My problems–which before had loomed large–became inconsequential. Accompanying her enabled me to shift the focus from myself to her in a very natural, unforced way. In the last two months of her life, my primary concern became attending to her needs. Though I felt completely spent after her peaceful death, I discovered that accompanying her had been one of the greatest gifts of my life:

  • I witnessed how God worked in her and through her, and how she allowed that to happen
  • I received the gift of her love for me, even to her  last moments of consciousness
  • In being “stretched” to give of myself more fully in this new, accompanying kind of way, I discovered new things about myself
  • I received anew the gift of my life, rediscovering how precious I am and feeling inspired to fully live that gift

Accompanying the world would, I imagine, entail some of the same shifts for us today: taking the focus off ourselves, attending to others’ urgent needs, re-discovering ourselves as we give of ourselves in love more fully, and receiving the gift that others are for us and for the world.

* * *

There is so much more to reflect on in 2014’s Message, but at least my unpacking and reflecting on it here has helped me to deepen it. I hope that it’s also offered some helpful insights for you as well!

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