“COVID-19 is our Noah moment,” says Pope Francis, “as long as we can find our way to the Ark of the ties that unite us; of love, and common belonging.”
The Holy Father’s new book-interview, Let Us Dream – The Path to a Better Future, in conversation with journalist and author Austen Ivereigh, is a message of hope — divided into three parts: A Time To See, A Time to Choose, A Time to Act.
It is a good book to read during Advent, a time when we can pray a hymn such as “Come and make all things new, build up this ruined earth, restore our faded paradise, creation’s second birth” (Come, Lord, and Tarry Not).
Let Us Dream looks at the realities of how COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of life, including the economy, relationships, the environment, migrants, the vulnerable, poor, the unborn, the elderly, women and our cities. During the past year of “change and crisis,” Pope Francis says his “mind and heart have overflowed with people” – people he prays for and with whom he sometimes cries.
This book is ready-made for group sharing — whether in-person (which we appreciate more than ever) or via technology, which I believe God gave us for such a time as now. This is a work you can easily take up with your faith-sharing group, book club, corporation, higher education institution or family across generations. It opens up the door for dialogue, ingenuity and collaboration. And God knows many of us feel we don’t need to do another thing in “isolation.”
In Let Us Dream, the Holy Father says we can come out of this tragedy better or worse, reminding us of the Scripture where God speaks to Isaiah, “Come, let us talk this over. If you are ready to listen, we will have a great future. But if you refuse to listen, you’ll be devoured by the sword.”
He points out that the “Noah story in Genesis is not just about how God offered a path out of destruction but about all that followed.”
In order “to dream of a different future, we need to choose fraternity over individualism as our organizing principle,” says the pope.
Readers will do well to go through this book slowly and write their own reflections, and share them with others.
“Unfinished thinking,” says Pope Francis, is an “opening up to the Spirit and to the discernment of spirits” – a humility, to “leave space” to the good, the true, and the beautiful to come into our thinking – something he attributes to learning from the German Catholic priest and theologian Romano Guardini.
There is much to be discovered in this work, fruitful for conversation.
Here are a few of my reflections.
“Social distancing is a necessary response to a pandemic, but it cannot last without eroding our humanity. We were born not just for connection but for contact. It’s risky to say this because I could be misunderstood, but the communication we need most is touch. Coronavirus has made us fearful about hugging and shaking hands with people. We yearn for the touch of those we love, which we must sometimes give up for their sake and ours. Touch is a deeply human need.”
Reflection – Think about the gift of being able to touch others. What have you done to make up for not being able to touch those you love? In the future, how can you use your gift of touch to communicate? To reach out more and embrace the vulnerable in your midst, hold the hand of the elderly or accompany a disabled person?
“A humanity impatient with the limits that nature teaches is a humanity that has failed to master the power of technology. In other words, technology has ceased to be our instrument and has become our overlord. It has changed our mindset.”
Reflection – Chances are technology is an overlord in your life. I admit it is in mine. The challenge is what we do with that overlord. Do you recognize how it is subtly changing and influencing you? I was on retreat once when a priest told me he controlled his phone and it did not control him. He would even put it in his drawer and not bother with it. That is hard for most of us, but are there any steps you can take to control your device? Even for a sliver of your day? A big question is whether we are willing to do it. Here’s an idea: turn off your phone for an hour of prayer and put it out of your way, even if it means entrusting it to a neighbor or spouse. Take time to be with the Lord, even just in your home. Can you let go and not worry about a friend or adult family member’s texts for an hour? When we finally have a chance to come together in a big family gathering again, I’m going to propose a “ban-your-device-at-the-door party.” How’s that for a challenge?
“It is in the mediating institutions of society – beginning with the family – rather than the market that people find meaning in their lives, where they learn the dimensions of trust and solidarity. Which is why I am concerned about a certain kind of media culture that seeks to uproot especially the younger generations from their richest traditions, stripping them of their history, their culture, and their religious heritage. An uprooted person is very easy to dominate.” Pope Francis also speaks of the young and the old coming together — “It’s an intuition but I’ve long believed that if we pay attention to both of these groups, bring them in from outside and bring them together, great things will happen.”
Reflection – What can you create to bring together the generations? To create a sense of tradition and belonging? Sometimes when I have my nieces and nephews over I take out my Dad and Mom’s wedding album. When they look at it with their immediate or extended family they know it relates to their lives; they share something familial, something of comfort. And that can provide an opportunity to talk about the values my parents, their grandparents, lived by.
Pope Francis speaks throughout of going to the margins and periphery to see clearly. Of our urban areas he says, “With an ever greater concentration of people in cities, what happens there will be key to the future of our civilization.” He says, “We must dignify the peripheral areas of our cities, integrating them by means of social policies that recognize and value the cultural contribution they can make.”
Reflection – Thank you, Pope Francis. I live in the suburbs of New York City. If I hear one more person say, “It’s gone, done” as if they are wiping their hands of the city and shutting the door, I’m going to scream or cry. No, it’s not gone and it’s not done. It is part of our “common home,” a place of creativity and ingenuity where our brothers and sisters with talents, cultures and gifts live and work and dream. Our greatest power, says Pope Francis, “is the service we can offer others.” Why must our cities survive? What can you or your group do in service to help the people of a city in crisis?
Those are some of my reflections. I’m sure you will find the Holy Spirit inspiring you with your own .
It is hard to let go of what we considered our “center” before the pandemic, but Pope Francis tells us to “decenter” and “transcend.” Yes, I do believe as the Holy Father says, “God is asking us to dare to create something new” and we must not “let this clarifying moment pass us by.”
Buying this book and talking about it with others could be a good first step.