Out of the Blue 9th May 2020 by Sr Margaret Atkins

Out of the blue, most of the world was invited on retreat. We were forced to ponder our mortality, our vulnerability, our weakness, our ignorance. We were prompted to repent of the collective thoughtlessness of our modern way of life and its side-effects. We have had to slow down, to abandon our ordinary routines, to wean ourselves from the addictions of ‘business as usual’. Our values have been overturned: care workers, fruit pickers, parcel packers and cleaners have become our new saints, while go-getters, celebrities and billionaires kick their feet in their own homes.

We have rediscovered our neighbours, and even our own families. We have shared our fears and anxieties; we have grieved together, even at a distance, for the wonderful individual human beings we have lost. We have publicly honoured courage, fidelity, and simple acts of kindness. We have learnt to value statesmanlike modesty, honesty and truthfulness over political bluster. We have noted with sadness how even a virus that strikes princes and prime ministers will do the most devastating harm to the poorest communities.

The religious among us have been praying more intensely, with more focus, than for decades, despite the disruption of our normal supports. And many many others, who do not normally pray, have begun to join us, without embarrassment. We know that we cannot do this by ourselves.

And we have all been in this together: rich and poor, famous and unknown, old and young, strong and weak, native and immigrant, in every corner of the globe, together, we have shared fear, anxiety, sorrow, compassion and love.

In our own country, at least, we were blessed with a backdrop of a glorious springtime. It was filled with birdsong we could hear, flowers we had time to notice, birds and animals that grew in confidence when we withdrew. Perhaps they were reminding us to remember them when we go back to our usual lives.

It is five years since Pope Francis offered Laudato Si’ to ‘every person living on this planet’. In it, he invited us to pause, to pay attention to our world and what we are doing to it. He pondered the meaning of our faith in God as Creator and Redeemer, and its implications for the beautiful and fragile world we have been given as a home. He asked us to repent of our ‘technocratic mindset’, our arrogant mentality of trying to fix the world by untrammelled technological power. He evoked our interconnectedness across the globe, and the interconnections between the different aspects of our lives: ecological, political, economic, social, moral. He suggested dialogue at every level, among politicians, scientist and religious people. He insisted that we notice especially the poor and the vulnerable. He asked us to convert our hearts and minds and to change our lives.

We could never have been given a better opportunity to meditate on his words and let them sink into our hearts. The question is, will we let them change our lives?

The Church has a distinctive opportunity and distinctive responsibility to bear witness in this area, to ‘do the truth’, as The First Letter of St John puts it (I Jn 1.6). The basics of our faith makes it crystal clear: God has given us a world that is good and beautiful, which we are to receive, give thanks for and care for as a gift. From Jesus himself and the Desert Fathers onwards, our holy men and women have modelled friendship with other creatures. We are called to care in a particular way for poor and the needy human beings (those, in other words, most threatened by ecological disasters). We are called to live simply, with a joyful asceticism such as the saints have always practised. Although we have often failed, we have no excuse: our faith, however we like to interpret it, makes this clear.

We are also blessed with an exciting opportunity. Together, as Christians, we could make the difference that makes all the difference. We have the numbers, the organisation, the moral commitment, the collective voice, to be the section of society that tips the balance from indifference to effective action. We already have our strong local networks and our international links, leadership on the ground and across the globe. If we want to, we can act, we can act decisively, and we can act as one. Above all, we have the gift of God’s presence among us, sobering and shaming us, encouraging and inspiring us, promising a sure and lasting hope to all those who listen to His voice.

We are called to be the leaven that transforms the whole batch of dough. Let us grasp this opportunity together, with and our hands, our heads and our hearts.

“Nature is filled with words of love, but how can we listen to them amid constant noise?”, wrote Pope Francis five years ago in Laudato Si’. Suddenly, the noise has stopped, and we have a chance to listen. Let us listen to the sounds of nature, let us listen to the tradition of our faith, and let us listen once again to the Holy Father’s appeal. Rereading Laudato Si’ would not be a bad place to start.

God of love, show us our place in this world

as channels of your love

for all the creatures of this earth,

for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.

Enlighten those who possess power and money

that they may avoid the sin of indifference,

that they may love the common good, advance the weak, 
and care for this world in which we live.

The poor and the earth are crying out.

O Lord, seize us with your power and light, 
help us to protect all life,

to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom

of justice, peace, love and beauty.

Praise be to you!