A Bishop's Perspective

The globalization of indifference


In recent years there has been a television news magazine entitled “What Would You Do?”

It raises the question of how people respond to certain situations. A hidden camera captures actors portraying scenes of conflict or illegal activity while focusing on the people surrounding the activity — whether they will intervene or not, and if they do, how they intervene. In order to show some nuances, there are variations of the scenes: changing the genders, the races or how the actors are dressed in the scene. The producers have shown that some people respond differently to different variations.

In Scripture, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) speaks of how a rich man would pass by a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores, who laid at the rich man’s door. The rich man would pass him day in and day out and enter his home to feast splendidly at his table. The parable goes on to convey that when they both died, the rich man suffered torment while Lazarus enjoyed the blessings of heaven. It is a poignant teaching of how our interactions with the poor and the needy provide a way to salvation.

Each year the Pope offers a message at the beginning of the season of Lent. This year, Pope Francis has brought forth a message entitled, “Make Your Hearts Firm”. It is a message about the globalization of indifference.Burns article logo2

Indifference to our neighbor is a real temptation in our society and is possibly at the root of many hearts. We need to be challenged by others so we do not grow indifferent. Within the Christian tradition, we look to those “others” as the prophets, the apostles, the faithful disciples and saints who have gone before us, and we listen to them crying out with the message of love that challenges our consciences.

While many in our society attempt to say our God is indifferent to the pain and suffering of our bothers and sisters, or that God is unjust to allow such suffering in the world, they could not be further from the truth in understanding God’s love. During this Lenten season, we commemorate the time when Jesus, God’s only begotten son, sent by the Father, takes upon himself our human nature so as to experience the pain and suffering that is a part of this world and our lives. That is to say, what our Lord experienced on Calvary has bound him ever closer to us out of love, especially in moments when we suffer. In other words, when we experience pain and suffering, our God fills those moments with his presence.

Within the Christian tradition, we recognize that if one person suffers, we all suffer. We are part of a community that sees every member as either a brother or a sister. There are many programs and agencies in place in our Juneau community that recognizes that we cannot be indifferent to those in need. In particular, I am mindful of the Glory Hole homeless shelter and all it does in taking care of people who are hungry and homeless.

Ultimately, we hope that there is an openness in the lives of people to see the needs of others — that is, that we possess a merciful heart. In particular, I pray that our legislators recognize the gift and dignity of every human life from the moment of conception until natural death. I hope that we never grow indifferent to the plight of those in the Middle East, in Syria, Iraq, etc. And I pray that we never remain silent in the aftermath of such events as the recent martyrdom of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians when they were beheaded. We cannot remain silent! To remain silent shows a grave display of indifference.

In order to address our troubled conscience when moments of violence, war and injustice occur, let us seek ways to express justice, respect and charity toward all. It is important that our indifferent hearts be converted to love — that our indifference be conquered by love.

Within his Lenten message, Pope Francis has asked that all Catholic parishes in the universal Church be “islands of mercy.” First and foremost, those who profess a belief in Jesus Christ must know how to express the love and mercy we received at the time of his crucifixion.

There are three things we can do in order to be converted from our indifference to love. First, we must pray for those in need. Second, we should help with our acts of charity by reaching out to others. And third, strive to assure that indifference is conquered by love.

Pope Francis concludes his Lenten message with these words: “In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference.”

• Bishop Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.

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