In his New Year’s address Friday, Pope Francis said that despite many negative signs that make us think God is absent in the world, His mercy is the only thing capable of overcoming the misery that threatens our world.
Christians believe that God sent His Son Jesus in “the fullness of time.” However, the Pope said in his homily at Saint Peter’s Basilica, “This mystery constantly clashes with the dramatic experience of human history” and the “fullness of time seems to fade before the countless forms of injustice and violence which daily wound our human family.”
The existence and apparent victory of evil in the world make us wonder and even doubt, Francis said.
“Sometimes we ask ourselves how it is possible that human injustice persists unabated,” he said, “and that the arrogance of the powerful continues to demean the weak, relegating them to the most squalid outskirts of our world.”
“We ask how long human evil will continue to sow violence and hatred in our world, reaping innocent victims,” he continued.
How can the fullness of time have come when we are witnessing hordes of men, women and children fleeing war, hunger and persecution, ready to risk their lives simply to encounter respect for their fundamental rights? A torrent of misery, swollen by sin, seems to contradict the fullness of time brought by Christ.
Nonetheless, Francis said, there is cause for hope and even confidence of victory in the face of these manifestations of evil in the world.
Francis said that “this swollen torrent is powerless before the ocean of mercy which floods our world.”
“All of us are called to immerse ourselves in this ocean, to let ourselves be reborn, to overcome the indifference which blocks solidarity, and to leave behind the false neutrality which prevents sharing.”
The theme of overcoming indifference, which leaves us apathetic and inert before evil and human suffering, has been a thread running through the Pope’s addresses of late.
The topic for his annual message for the World Day of Peace, celebrated on January 1, is precisely “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace,” a subject he unravels throughout the nearly 5,000-word letter.
There, too, Francis acknowledges the grim state of affairs in the world today, beginning with the reality of international Islamist terrorism.
“Sadly,” Francis wrote, “war and terrorism, accompanied by kidnapping, ethnic or religious persecution and the misuse of power, marked the past year from start to finish.”
“In many parts of the world, these have became so common as to constitute a real ‘third world war fought piecemeal,’” he wrote.
Significantly, in enumerating the many forms of indifference that plague our world, Francis began with the one he considers the gravest: “indifference to God.” This first kind of indifference, he noted, necessarily leads to indifference to one’s neighbor, and he argued that it “is one of the grave consequences of a false humanism and practical materialism allied to relativism and nihilism.”
“We have come to think that we are the source and creator of ourselves, our lives and society. We feel self-sufficient, prepared not only to find a substitute for God but to do completely without him,” he wrote, and as a consequence, “we feel that we owe nothing to anyone but ourselves, and we claim only rights.”
The Pope argued that in spite of atheists’ claims at being “humanistic,” real humanism cannot exist without transcendence.
Contrary to the secular humanism that attempts to construct a world without God, Francis wrote that “there is no true humanism but that which is open to the Absolute, and is conscious of a vocation which gives human life its authentic significance.”
Our deepest confidence comes from the knowledge of God’s goodness and enduring love for mankind, Francis said.
At the beginning of the New Year, he wanted to share this profound conviction.
“God is not indifferent! God cares about mankind! God does not abandon us!”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.