from Pieta in Lisbon Cathedral, Portugal. (Photo by M. Bovee)
Pope Francis wants us to give up indifference for Lent. I imagine two kinds of indifference. One is an indifference to the suffering of others when one is quite comfortable. If I’m eating chocolate ice cream, for example, I can be quite content with that activity and not think much about the people going hungry in other countries or even only a half an hour car ride away. Similarly, if I am warmly clothed on a cold winter’s day and have a warm bed to sleep in, I might ignore those who don’t have their basic needs met. The list of such examples is endless. This is a very real indifference that I could work hard to overcome.
But there’s another kind of indifference that seems to me even deeper, even harder for me to eradicate. That is indifference which stems from being sensitive to begin with–and then giving up on it. It is an indifference born out of pain. When someone plays the guitar for the first time, the person’s fingers become sensitive and even painful–until calluses are formed which protect one from the pain. Young people who are exposed to horror films at first recoil in fright, but after a while, with repeated exposure, they are quite numb to the effects. A first betrayal is very excruciating, and any subsequent ones not quite so much.
With the poverty, violence, environmental disasters, not to mention the ordinary, day-to-day pricks and pains of life that we encounter, we may have the temptation and even the very concrete experience of becoming indifferent. It’s a protective mechanism to avoid more pain–a callus formed on the heart.
The challenge then becomes to let oneself feel the pain again, to absorb the pain into one’s heart.
And that’s where the Christian cross comes in. In absorbing the pain, we are uniting ourselves with Jesus on the cross: His pain is our pain and our pain is His pain. Jesus forgave others while hanging on the cross, saying, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” With Jesus’ help, we, too, forgive others who have wronged us and who have wronged those we care about. His love is the love we are able to show others through it all.
We can feel again, we can give up indifference, with Jesus’ help: He will help us to carry the cross of feeling. In doing so, we feel–all the more deeply–a love for others.