“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
The sin of the rich man in the Gospel (Luke 16:19-31) is not so much that he is rich or that he eats very well – though these insulate him from the harsher realities beyond him – his sin is that of indifference, his indifference to the agony being experienced by the poor man Lazarus outside his gate. He is indifferent, unmoved, does nothing to help.
It’s clear from the gospel that the rich man has to account for his indifference before God and that he has to bear the consequence of it for eternity, an eternity in which he is plunged into the agony that he ignored in Lazarus while the latter is lifted up into heaven.
The path of holiness, the path to eternal life is one of attentiveness to the one who is in need and this gospel forces me to ask myself if there is something, and more importantly someone, that I am ignoring at this time in my life – someone within my home or someone outside.
Pope Francis reminds us that this is an age in which we have become indifferent as a society. We are indifferent to the environment, to climate change and it’s negative impact on poorer countries; we are indifferent to the trafficking of women and children and other forms of modern enslavement; we are indifferent to the fate of the child in the womb; our government has a practical indifference to the plight of the homeless, the poorest and most vulnerable of our society. And our society has become indifferent to God which is the most fundamental indifference of all.
In Dublin we witnessed a march organized by the Abortion Rights Campaign calling for the repeal of the 8th Amendment. They say that 20,000 took part in it and some of the language used showed an aggressive indifference to the life of the child in the womb, an indifference that speaks of the child in the womb in inhuman terms, that seeks to take away the equal right to life of the child. That’s what we’re talking about – an equal right to life, not a superior right to life – and they want to take that right away. This is a society that went to great lengths to demonstrate its commitment to equality in last year’s marriage referendum. So where is the equality now?
This aggressive indifference to the equal rights of the child is accompanied by our own silent indifference. It’s likely that most people, most Catholics will go along with the campaign to repeal the 8th and if we do then we, like the rich man in the gospel, will have to account before God for our silent indifference and we will have to live out its consequences.
For Pope Francis the solution to indifference is mercy – mercy in the sense of developing that innate instinct of reaching out to do the right thing at the right time. Reaching out to feed the poor, clothe the naked, house the homeless, represent the voiceless.
Within the context of our relationships mercy is not just reaching out to help and sometimes the help we give can in fact be mercy-less because it’s not what the other needs. Sometimes I need you to just leave me alone, stop hassling me, stop crowding me or just stop talking.
Siblings get tangled in each other from time to time, sometimes very often – they can fight like a bag of cats as I did myself as a child. But in the moment of need they will stand up for each other.
An example of it happened with my two young nieces aged 7 and 5 at the time. I’m sitting in the house reading, while the older niece Katie is colouring, when the younger Laura comes to the back door to say that a bigger child outside has taken her doll and won’t give it back. With that Katie put down her pen went straight out the door, went up to the bigger child, took the doll off her, came back and gave it to her sister. And then simply resumed her colouring.
This was a display of mercy that is necessary, simple, direct and childlike. It has something to teach us adults who spend too much time thinking – or maybe not thinking at all – and not enough doing the thing that is necessary.
And it brings another question to mind – who is the bigger one, the power, who has taken my doll and what is the doll that needs to be retrieved?
“Fight the good fight of the faith and win for yourself the eternal life to which you were called when you made your profession and spoke up for the truth in front of many witnesses… before God the source of all life and before Christ, who spoke up as a witness for the truth in front of Pontius Pilate” (1 Timothy 6:11-16)
Picture taken from: http://johnfenzel.typepad.com/john_fenzels_blog/2008/01/the-true-meanin.html