Medicine for the Soul
On the first ever papal visit to Iraq, Pope Francis said: “We know how easy it is to be infected by the virus of discouragement that at times seems to spread all around us.” He was talking to a persecuted people, but he was also talking to every one of us.
There’s been plenty of discouraging news recently. We’re marking a year since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic that shut down so much of our “normal” lives and routines. And on March 10, some celebrated National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day, where doctors who perform abortions were likened to essential personnel. That served to remind us that in New York and other states with Democratic governors, abortions are considered an essential service, even, as in the case of New York, senior citizens were being left to die of COVID-19 in nursing homes.
Pope Francis, in his first trip out of Rome in more than a year, went to Iraq and told it like it is. Since the beginning of the pandemic and earlier, he’s had the right diagnosis for our deeper sickness. Much of the news coverage of his Iraq trip focused on his unprecedented visit to the Grand Ayatollah, leader of the Shia Muslims in Iraq. But the heart of the visit was his ministering to the Iraqi Christians who have been victims of genocide carried out by the terrorist group ISIS.
Another Kind of Medicine
As people get their COVID-19 vaccines, Pope Francis has another kind of medicine in mind. His healing comes from the hope born of prayer. With this vaccine, we can go forth with renewed strength, to share the joy of the Gospel as disciples and living signs of the presence of God’s kingdom of holiness, justice and peace.
At his final Mass of the trip, in Erbil, Pope Francis talked about how Jesus drove out from the temple in Jerusalem the moneychangers and all the buyers and sellers. “Why did Jesus do something this forceful and provocative? He did it because his father sent him to cleanse the temple: not only the Temple of stone, but above all the temple of our heart.”
He continued: “Our heart must be cleansed, put in order and purified. Of what? Of the falsehoods that stain it, from hypocritical duplicity.”
Pope Francis emphasized: “We need to be cleansed of the deceptive securities that would barter our faith in God with passing things, with temporary advantages. We need the baneful temptations of power and money to be swept from our hearts and from the Church. To cleanse our hearts, we need to dirty our hands, to feel accountable and not to simply look on as our brothers and sisters are suffering.”
There’s a real danger that as we return to some semblance of “normal,” we’ll fall into all kinds of false securities again. With the temptations of social media and the like, it’s easier than ever to disappear into our own bubbles, surrounded by people who think and act as we do -- or as we like to think we do -- and where the real troubles of our lives and our world can be blithely ignored.
Pope Francis was speaking to a resilient people who have been through a purifying experience. The majority of the Christians in Erbil fled there when ISIS came to Mosul. Their lives were upended because they refused to renounce Christ. Our lives were upended, too. Not by genocide, but COVID-19 -- for some of us in heartbreaking ways, as it took loved ones and prevented us from being with them in their last moments. For others of us, it was more a matter of inconvenience and some mental anguish of fear. Could it be that it’s all an opportunity to get our lives in order, to get right with God?
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.