Sunday, 31 July 2016

Pope Francis: "sofa" Catholics are called to lace up their boots

There is a very good report on the evening vigil at World Youth Day at the website of he Guardian: Pope Francis holds vigil near Kraków amid tension over refugees. Do read the whole report, as the reference to the tension over refugees forms only a small part of the whole report. The Catholic Herald also carries a report here, that I suggest you read before continuing.

The text of Pope Francis' address to the young people is here (English) and here (Italian - the language of delivery). I do think one needs to read the whole, but I was particularly struck by Pope Francis use of the image of a "sofa":
We have heard three testimonies. Our hearts were touched by their stories, their lives. We have seen how, like the disciples, they experienced similar moments, living through times of great fear, when it seemed like everything was falling apart.....
But in life there is another, even more dangerous, kind of paralysis. .... I like to describe it as the paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa. In other words, to think that in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa. A sofa that makes us feel comfortable, calm, safe. A sofa like one of those we have nowadays with a built-in massage unit to put us to sleep. A sofa that promises us hours of comfort so we can escape to the world of videogames and spend all kinds of time in front of a computer screen. A sofa that keeps us safe from any kind of pain and fear. A sofa that allows us to stay home without needing to work at, or worry about, anything. “Sofa-happiness”! That is probably the most harmful and insidious form of paralysis, which can cause the greatest harm to young people. And why does this happen Father? Because, little by little, without even realizing it, we start to nod off, to grow drowsy and dull. ...
For many people, that is more convenient than having young people who are alert and searching, trying to respond to God’s dream and to all the restlessness present in the human heart. I ask you: do you want to be young people who nod off, who are drowsy and dull? [No!] Do you want others to decide your future for you? [No!] Do you want to be free? [Yes!] Do you want to be alert? [Yes!] Do you want to work hard for your future? [Yes!] You don’t seem very convinced… Do you want to work hard for your future? [Yes!]....
..... Dear young people, we didn’t come into this work to “vegetate”, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark. It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark. But when we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: we lose our freedom. We are not free to leave a mark. ....
My friends, Jesus is the Lord of risk, he is the Lord of the eternal “more”. Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease. Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths. To blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy, the joy that is born of God’s love and wells up in your hearts with every act of mercy. To take the path of the “craziness” of our God, who teaches us to encounter him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee and the migrant, and our neighbours who feel abandoned. To take the path of our God, who encourages us to be politicians, thinkers, social activists. The God who encourages us to devise an economy marked by greater solidarity than our own. In all the settings in which you find yourselves, God’s love invites you bring the Good News, making of your own lives a gift to him and to others. This means being courageous, this means being free!
[It is interesting that the BBC news report that I have just heard on the radio spoke of Pope Francis encouraging young people to become social activists and politicians - but omitted to mention his account of this as a following of Jesus Christ and a practicing of God's love towards others].
The times we live in do not call for young “couch potatoes”, but for young people with shoes, or better, boots laced. The times we live in require only active players on the field, and there is no room for those who sit on the bench. Today’s world demands that you be a protagonist of history because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark. History today calls us to defend our dignity and not to let others decide our future. No! We must decide our future, you must decide your future! As he did on Pentecost, the Lord wants to work one of the greatest miracles we can experience; he wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation. He wants your hands to continue building the world of today. And he wants to build that world with you. And what is your response? Yes or no? [Yes!] 
The reference to the "sofa" reminded me of the preface to Hans Urs von Balthasar's study of the witness of martyrdom, published in English with the title The Moment of Christian Witness.  The context may be strictly different than that in which Pope Francis was speaking - an academic/ theological reflection on the nature of martyrdom for a particular debate then occurring in the life of Church rather than a pastoral encouragement to young people to live the Christian life - but perhaps there is not that much difference after all. The 2016 World Youth Day has been overshadowed by the martyrdom of Christian communities in Syria and Iraq (one of the testimonies during the vigil was from a young lady from Aleppo in Syria) and by the martyrdom of Fr Jacques Hamel in France. So perhaps one can see Pope Francis' call to young people to get themselves up off the sofa and tie their boot laces as a call to that "decisive moment" of von Balthasar, a "decisive moment" that may involve the ultimate witness of the martyr:
If you say to Georges Bernanos, "Come along with me. It's the Ernstfall - the crucial moment in Christian experience", the old grumbler will get up out of his armchair without so much as raising an eyebrow and follow you like a lamb. But if you go to Reinhold Schneider, the author of Winter in Vienna, and say the same thing to him, there is no telling what might happen.  Whether you would finally manage to get any response at all from those who have been "demythologised" and converted to the world, I do not know. They have already explained everything away and are left with a merely symbolic belief in a message that they understand only by analogy. For them, both belief and the message are worth dying for only by analogy, just as they consider their Christianity worth living for only by analogy to something else.
In Krakow, Pope Francis has clearly called young people to live up to the demand of the "decisive moment" that they may encounter in their Christian lives.

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