A few stale Christmas cookies linger, but the mailbox has yielded its last, tardy Christmas card, and those not-so-merry tax documents are showing up instead. Bah humbug.
Soon, we will begin the inexorable trek through Ordinary Time that will lead to a February Ash Wednesday. Time marches on.
There’s an old Irish tradition of leaving the front door open so the new year can enter. But maybe 2021 should ring the doorbell like a proper guest so we can see what it’s bringing.
For me, a hopeful new book by Pope Francis ushered in the first days of 2021.
“Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future” is Pope Francis’s call to examine how the COVID-19 crisis can change us for the better in the time we have before us. Pope Francis dreams of a redesigned economy, a new respect for our natural world, a renewed focus on the poor and marginalized.
“To dream of a different future,” Pope Francis writes, “we need to choose fraternity over individualism as our organizing principle.”
I see this as a tough choice for many Americans. I’m thinking of those who feel deprived of some imaginary “right” by being asked to wear a mask to protect others during COVID-19. Or those who believe that the Second Amendment right to bear arms means that we can’t ask for background checks or restrict the mentally ill or domestic abusers from amassing arsenals. We’ve taken this rugged individualism to deadly extremes.
When Pope Francis speaks of the “hyperinflation of the individual,” I think of those examples in my own culture. In my own life, I wonder how often I look in the mirror versus how often I look out the window.
Pope Francis believes “this crisis unmasks our vulnerability, exposes the false securities on which we had based our lives.” It makes us aware that we need not revert to the same old throwaway culture, the misuse of natural resources, the reliance on constant economic growth as a marker of our “progress.” All of these things are connected.
This small book doesn’t read like a weighty Vatican tome. It’s accessible and challenging, a collaboration between Pope Francis and the British writer Austen Ivereigh, who interviewed the pope, and worked with his suggestions and revisions as the document took shape.
Essentially, it’s a call to conversion as we move forward from COVID-19, and it relies on Catholic teaching to shape our consciences. For example, it speaks of the preferential option for the poor, which Pope Francis explains means “we need always to keep in mind how any decision we make might impact the poor.”
Another Catholic principle Pope Francis emphasizes is the “universal destination of goods.” God has created the goods of this earth for all. While private property is a right, its “use and regulation need to keep in mind this key principle.”
I’m reminded of how income inequality in the U.S. has soared since the 1950s — salaries for the vast majority have not kept pace, while billionaires have taken over vast swaths of America’s wealth.
Pope Francis doesn’t dodge the hard issues. He talks about the mistakes made after the 2008 financial meltdown. He speaks of George Floyd, gun violence in the U.S., the travesties of abortion and the death penalty. He fears we will try to gloss over the many societal problems that COVID-19 exposed. He criticizes “the infamous trickle-down theory” of the economy.
“For a long time, we carried on thinking we could be healthy in a world that was sick,” the pontiff writes.
We can shape the future. We need to dream, pray, choose and act.