I read a very interesting article the other day. It was a short article in Time’s online edition. Short on length but long on depth and meaning. The article discussed Pope Francis’ different perspective on the traditional Lenten fasting. Most of the time when we give up something for Lent, it’s a personal sacrifice; that’s true but rarely does that sacrifice translate to benefiting someone else. That’s where the Pope’s calling upended the traditional view.
The Pope’s call for Lent? Fast from indifference towards others.
What does it mean, indifference? Mirriam Webster defines it as a “lack of interest in or concern about something.” So what is His Eminence asking us to “give up”? Well, give up being apathetic to others’ problems; stop walking past the derelict on the street; give up our complacence towards others’ pain; stop the coldness, hard-hardheartedness and callous disregard toward the plight, the anxiety, the homelessness, the hunger, the poverty … the fear of our brothers and sisters. We need to show concern for others. “Concern?” “A marked interest or regard usually arising through a personal tie or relationship” is how the dictionary defines “concern.”
So what the difference? Simple. Let your sacrifice have some depth, some heart, some meaning. Let it not be just a veneer – let it sink in a permeate every nook and cranny of your being. We need to hear those inner voices that trouble our conscience; something that causes us to squirm from discomfort.
The longer we harden ourselves to the world outside the more our hearts and souls become encased in and encrusted with hardened steel and barbed wire, impervious to the needs of others. We become incapable of feeling compassion, sympathy and empathy for the troubles and pains of others. We tend to believe and act as if “all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.” That belief tends to reinforce the hardness and coldness of our hearts and further distances ourselves from those around us. In the meantime the suffering of others gets progressively worse and unbeknownst to us, our own suffering of spirit spreads like a cancer. Our souls leak as our humanity rusts and withers. Finally, when we are alone we wonder why no one seems to care, no one seems to notice that our hearts are as black as night.
Look around. Take notice. Take action. Give up the indifference to the plight of others. You don’t have to solve the problem – you just have to let them know they’re not alone. Just be their friend. The effect is more long-lasting than giving up chips or chocolate for Lent.
So eat your chips and chocolates, keep binging on Netflix. Give your heart and attention instead. Rend your hearts not your garments.