These are days for recognizing fragility. How vulnerable we are to destructive temptations–and to others’ accusations that we are sinful. We tend to let our recognition of sinfulness drive us apart, but it actually should draw us together. We share a desperate need for mercy but too seldom find it among human beings. We too seldom grant mercy to others because we resist seeing our own flaws mirrored in the heartbreaking news of everyday life among institutions and individuals.
October 4 is the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. In establishing an order of laypeople, today called the Secular Franciscan Order, he instructed them to be “brothers and sisters of penance” as they follow a Gospel path toward humility, peacemaking, and a love affair with the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
In the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Bishop Kevin Rhoades has called for October 5 to be a day of prayer and penitence among all Catholics, recognizing that only a shared understanding of everybody’s need for conversion–for what business consultants would call “continuous quality improvement”–will keep us journeying together.
Otherwise, as seen in current news from the worlds of politics and religion, our fears and resentments threaten to create a “search and destroy” world. Who will defend us? The center will not hold unless we place top priority on seeking God’s wisdom and sharing God’s love, with help from both faith and reason, both mercy and justice.
We need to wake up each morning to two headlines: First, remember the Good News (aka the Gospels) that God is our savior and vindicator, bringing good out of our suffering if we follow him and align with his purposes. Second, as veteran editorial cartoonist Rex F. May (known as Baloo) depicted so well in the drawing above, “everybody is implicated” by dint of our all-too-common flaws. I’m thankful to Mr. May (reachable today) for his permission to use this copyrighted drawing from decades ago because it reminds me of St. Francis’ summons to a life of ongoing conversion.
The beloved saint urges that we keep on walking, humbly but uprightly, once our blithe assumption that “seldom is heard a discouraging word” has been revealed as fake news. When we take a hit in the headlines of life, we must turn to the Peace Prayer: Grant that I might not seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand.
Pope Francis has called for a “journalism of peace” that helps us grasp the full story of our lifetime journeys together. Information media should prompt us to pursue truth, not weaponize it. The Pope wrote about this in his 2018 World Communications Day message, officially presented in May, and I wrote some reflections on that message in my book, When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer?
Pope Francis had something else to say in 2018 about recognizing our mutual need for better information alongside personal formation. According to the online publication Crux and its editor John L. Allen Jr., the pontiff had this to say in January at his first General Audience of the year:
“To measure ourselves by the fragility of the clay with which we’re made is an experience that strengthens us. While making us deal with our weakness, it also opens our hearts to invoke the divine mercy that transforms and converts.”
If we read between the lines in the headlines this year, or any year, we’ll be confronted with the “Everybody Implicated” message constantly. That’s a good thing, but let’s face it: these headlines will hurt. Fortunately, we can find an element of humor and hope in Baloo’s cartoon if our values and relationships teach us that the quality of mercy is not strained and healing our woundedness is something we can all work on together.
“Everybody Implicated” could be click-bait for a scorched-earth, apocalyptic drama of mutual defamation. May it lead us instead into a full story that is not pathetic, but empathetic. Like any good headline in any good news medium, it can jar us on our way toward deeper truth. At the risk of hyperbolic misinterpretation, three cheers for a gift of succinct prophecy well-suited to St. Francis’ feast day. Baloo foreshadows a “journalism of peace” that puts humility on the front page where it belongs.