“Those who take care of the sick – play an essential role in today’s society, even if they often do not receive the recognition and recompense they deserve. … Taking care of those who are sick, of those who are in need, of those who are cast aside: this is a human, and also Christian, wealth.”

Pope Francis
General Audience
Wednesday, September 16

In today’s General Audience, and continuing on the theme of human fraternity, Pope Francis reminded us that recovering from a pandemic requires caring about one another. He drew attention to those who care for the sick, elderly, and the weakest among us. This Sunday before Mass, I spoke with a fellow parishioner who works as a pediatric nurse in a hospital, and she described cases of children she has been treating who have developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a long-term lingering effect of the Covid-19 virus that has cropped up in many children post-infection. This pandemic has put great strain on our healthcare workers, many of whom are fatigued, some of whom have suffered emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. Some have lost their lives to Covid. Some have developed anxiety or depression. In some tragic cases, health care workers have even lost their lives to suicide.

Providing care for caretakers is vital in a just and healthy society. In this sense, we are often called to be healers to the healers. This doesn’t apply only to healthcare workers, but to others whose vocations and professions require that they give their lives for others. Nursing home employees, day care workers, mental health providers, social workers, teachers, emergency aid workers, research scientists, members of the military, and first responders all work in fields that are vital to human development and well-being. While there are undoubtedly self-centered and corrupt people in some of these professions, the vast majority went into these professions with a desire to impact others in a positive way, and to make the world better to the best of their ability.

The principles of human fraternity and integral ecology remind us that despite religious, cultural, and political divisions, we can and should support each other and have good will toward one another wherever we can, and we should work to overcome obstacles to mutual respect and recognizing the dignity of every person.

Pope Francis also reminded us today, “We must also extend this care to our common home: to the earth and to every creature.” Compounding the challenges caused by the current pandemic, people in many parts of the world have been suffering through wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. While we can’t stop every natural disaster, we should work to prevent what we can, to establish preventative safeguards to mitigate what we cannot, and we must unite to help those whose lives have been impacted by such disasters.

This picture, which was widely shared recently on social media, shows exhausted Kern County, California, resting after a round of fighting the 2017 Thomas wildfire. It has gone viral again due to the recent fires in California and all over the Southwestern U.S. The life of a service worker becomes extremely intense during an emergency, and our appreciation, respect, and gratitude for those who give of themselves in this way must transcend any and all ideological barriers. This is something that must be shared within the entire human family, not just limited to our tribes or our ideological allies. Perhaps it is worth taking a moment to contemplate the strain and hard work that these firefighters must have gone through.

While they might not all share our religion, our values, our culture, or all of our moral values, such workers give of themselves to save lives and to protect nature from unimaginable devastation. Sometimes they are unable to save everyone. Sometimes they risk their own lives for people they don’t know or have never even seen. They might not even have the benefit (at least in this life) of knowing the extent of the good that they’ve done. They are our brothers and sisters—all of them.

The bulk of Francis’s address today focused on care for God’s creation. Lamenting how the earth has become a victim to the throwaway culture, he said, “What is the antidote against the sickness of not taking care of our common home? It is contemplation.” He continued,

“If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple” (Laudato Si’, 215). Also in terms of using things and discarding them. However, our common home, creation, is not a mere “resource”. Creatures have a value in and of themselves and each one “reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 339). This value and this ray of divine light must be discovered and, in order to discover it, we need to be silent, we need to listen, and we need to contemplate. Contemplation also heals the soul.

Just as we should rediscover our gratitude for those service workers and first responders who give selflessly of their lives, we must also cultivate a healthy appreciation of nature—of all creation—as Gift. Those of us who are homebound due to the pandemic or live in urban areas may not have had much time recently to contemplate the wonder and glory and beauty of creation. For me, personally, it can become easy for my view of the world to close in on itself when I haven’t recently spent time alone in nature.

Pope Francis goes deeper than that, however. He reminds us that we are a part of nature, and should contemplate nature from the inside:

“Contemplation, which leads us to an attitude of care, is not a question of looking at nature from the outside, as if we were not immersed in it. But we are inside nature, we are part of nature. Rather, it is done from within, recognizing us as part of creation, making us protagonists and not mere spectators of an amorphous reality that is only to be exploited. Those who contemplate in this way experience wonder not only at what they see but also because they feel they are an integral part of this beauty; and they also feel called to guard it and to protect it.”

He ties this back to his initial point about seeing the “true wealth” of people (emphasis mine):

“And there is one thing we must not forget: those who cannot contemplate nature and creation, cannot contemplate people in their true wealth. And those who live to exploit nature end up exploiting people and treating them like slaves. This is a universal law. If you cannot contemplate nature, it will be very difficult for you to contemplate people, the beauty of people, your brother, your sister. All of us.”

Integral ecology, the idea that “Everything is connected,” will perhaps eventually be the greatest and most-remembered teaching of Pope Francis. Human fraternity and care for creation are the foundation, the common ground, upon which we can share the Gospel in today’s world. It will require setting aside differences and knocking down walls. Pope Francis is challenging us. We must decide whether we will rise to it.

Featured image: Adobe stock by btoa555

Nurse Image: Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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