As I’m writing this letter to you, a procession of cars carrying mourners is leaving the funeral home across the street from the coffee shop where I sit. A job interview is being conducted at the table next to mine. The candidate for the job is anxiously enumerating her past accomplishments, repeating too many times that she can "make it happen" and won’t be "a flash in the pan." I watch the people walking quickly down the sidewalk, bundled against the cold, carrying their secret joys and sorrows.
How do we touch the beauty of our humanity when we live with the threat of death around us? When we experience ourselves tossed around mercilessly by the consequences of a plummeting economy? Is it possible to walk into the sunlight, knowing that someone who loved us or supported us has left this life for the next? How do we deal with having no one or no thing to depend on in this time of epochal change that directly impacts our life in ways we can't control? How can we be at peace when it seems we are always at the mercy of another's self-interest?
"In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people's welfare... At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day.... The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity."
This quote of Pope Francis is from his recent document Joy of the Gospel (no. 52). The title of the section in which we find these words is: Crisis of Communal Commitment. How many times I have touched the aloneness and sorrow that smothers the joy in a human heart. How much we need that commitment of one to another that offers support, security, and compassion.
Close your eyes and remember a time in which you felt supported by someone. What was that like? Can you think of an image that represents that experience? Was it like a summer's day, a friend's hug, being immersed in the ocean? One very supportive image we receive from the Bible is that of being held in the hands of God, strong yet gentle hands that have our best interests at heart. This is an image that God himself gives us in the prophecies of Isaiah. Can you experience yourself being held in God's hands? What is that like?
In whatever place you feel most alone in your life, picture yourself held in God's hands. Feel God's supportive love for you. Receive the tender mercy that he offers you in a gaze that keeps you in life and in death.
In reality we are never alone. We only imagine ourselves to be alone. It is God's continuous presence to us that restores our joy of living, our respect for ourselves and others, our sense of safety and dignity. When we have these, we can give these. Giving others a sense of joy, respect and dignity is a communal commitment that each of us can make.
Sr. Kathryn James Hermes, FSP