Hope is one of the gifts brought by a New Year. But before we rush into the new it’s healthy to stop and reflect on the past year we traversed, give thanks for the blessings, consider the lessons learned, and acknowledge the people who walked with us.
Some of the standout moments for my 2016 are those spent with family and friends. As much as I value quiet spaces to think and write, I also treasure the time spent in community with others. I think this is one of the reasons I never tire of participating in outdoor processions during special feast days or for an important cause. We are family, in good times and in bad times, walking together on this pilgrimage.
St. John Paul II in his encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis said it best, “We are all one family in the world. Building a community that empowers everyone to attain their full potential through each of us respecting each other’s dignity, rights and responsibilities makes the world a better place to live.”
Pope Francis called for a “revolution of tenderness” as we participated in the Jubilee of Mercy in 2016. He wants this revolution to continue. “Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church,” he said in his apostolic letter “Mercy and Peace.”
“Like a gusting but wholesome wind, the Lord’s goodness and mercy have swept through the entire world,” he said. Now we must put that mercy into action.
At the closing of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said that while the Jubilee ended and the Holy Door is closed, “the door of mercy of our heart continues to remain wide open. We have learned that God bends down to us (cf. Hos 11:4) so that we may imitate him in bending down to our brothers and sisters.”
He pointed out, “The culture of extreme individualism, especially in the West, has led to a loss of a sense of solidarity with and responsibility for others.” He added, “Mercy impels us to roll up our sleeves and set about restoring dignity to millions of people; they are our brothers and sisters who, with us, are called to build a “city which is reliable.”
In December, two young women whose parents and grandparents have been in exile in the United States, worked with interfaith leaders to organize a prayer vigil at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle in solidarity with the people in Syria. Families there have been devastated by a five-year civil war. We came together, people of all faiths, to pray for the people of Syria. We came together in solidarity. Throughout this New Year, we can find ways to express our solidarity with others, to walk with them sometimes on roads paved in uncertainty.
As Pope Francis notes, “We are called to promote a culture of mercy based on the rediscovery of the encounter with others, a culture in which no one looks at another with indifference or turns away from the suffering of our brothers and sisters.”
Following a procession in December for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Bishop Daniel E. Flores reminded us “we walk together as brothers and sisters, as children of God.” And this requires, he said, “that we respond with care to those who are suffering, those who are living through difficulties and darkness.” In his homily at the Mass for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he said we must raise our voice to protect those who are vulnerable.
In January each year, we celebrate a March for Life giving voice to the unborn and to remember the millions who have been lost to abortion. In our diocese, we will walk together on Jan. 21 from St. Joseph the Worker Church to Sacred Heart Church in McAllen.
“The Power of One,” the national theme for the march scheduled Jan. 27 in Washington, D.C, recognizes “One person can make a difference in the world, whether in the life of one person or many,” as noted on their website. “Sadly, in the U.S. alone, one million babies are not even given the opportunity to live and change the world each year,” according to organizers. “Building a culture of life and ending abortion takes each and every person. Starting with your family or neighborhood, our collective efforts will change hearts and minds, save lives, and build a culture of life.”
Pope Francis in his message “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace” for World Day of Peace 2016, said, “There are many good reasons to believe in mankind’s capacity to act together in solidarity and, on the basis of our interconnection and interdependence, to demonstrate concern for the more vulnerable of our brothers and sisters and for the protection of the common good.
For me the words of Elie Wiesel in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 also resonate. He said, “Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.” This is certainly counter culture in a world drunk on individualism and indifference.
In this New Year, I recognize more than ever I cannot stand on the sidelines. We cannot turn away with indifference from our family close to home or in other parts of the world. We walk together, we practice mercy, we raise our voices. For our New Year’s resolutions let’s look for ways to include more moments of solidarity, mercy and action.
(Originally published in January 2017 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper)