02 July 2006


As I remarked earlier, this afternoon a friend and I attempted to visit the exhibit "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" at the Field Museum. It promised to be a most exciting day until we arrived at the museum only to find that tickets for the day were sold out.

You can imagine our frustration when we thought back to last night when we nearly purchased our tickets in advance. However, due to a spirit of frugality, we did not wish to pay an additional $13 or $14 simply for the convenience of ordering the tickets online. So much for being responsible!

In an attempt to make the best of the situation and being very close to the Shedd Aquarium we decided to spend our money there instead. In theory, not a bad idea . . .

After waiting for an hour and a half outside the aquarium in line to purchase tickets, followed by an additional half hour wait inside the museum, we finally purchased the necessary paper slips and entered the aquarium together with what seemed to be 10,000 of our closest friends. Today I remembered why I hate large cities, Rome excepted.

The afternoon was filled with me in vain attempts to avoid people in general, but specifically to avoid being bumped into, shoved out of the way, stood in front it of, being surrounded by people going the wrong direction through an exhibit and so on and so forth. In short, I continually tried to place myself out of the way of people who somehow failed to even notice my existence, all to a very great failure.

Although the aquatic creatures are a truly a sight to behold and a wonder of creation, I could not enjoy the day, being already simply exhausted from standing in line and emotionally drained from the constant lack of recognition of my being made in the image and likeness of God himself, not the image and likeness of some telephone poll or rock.

Whenever I find myself in the company of a great many Americans I am always struck by our absolute lack of respect - and even recognition - of other people. I have experienced this not only in the Shedd Aquarium, but in shopping centers, the March for Life itself, cemeteries, sidewalks, schools, and - most abominable of all - even within churches.

It is deplorable to notice how many people apparently feel no regard for another person whatsoever and will stand directly in front of someone when they are very clearly already looking in the direction - and at the same thing - the new person wants to face or see.

One could argue that we care so little for anyone except myself that I do not even notice the other when the other happens to be either where I want to be or an inconvenience for me, we simply move them out of the way.

Simply consider how many babies are killed before even birth simply because the parents are not ready to have children. One should have considered that before engaging in the conjugal act. Consider how many elderly people are cast off to nursing homes to have someone else care for them. Consider, too, how pitifully few of these elderly have any family members visit them daily or even weekly (God love those of you who do visit your elderly relatives!). Consider the homeless people and the millions of poor people who live in our cities that we relegate to areas where we never even dream of venturing.

In a nation that claims to be at least 70% Christian, this is simply intolerable.

Having said all of this, I do not mean to say that I have not done - nor to cotinue to do - any of the things that I have condemened. Quite the contrary. However, I do beleive that I am at least a little bit more conscious of this than most people. Perhaps I am simply over sensitive, but I think not.

But then how does one go about reversing this perverse focus on the self? Quite simply, really, and this the Holy Father attempts to do through his Encyclical Letter Deus caritas est. At the outset of his letter he writes: "I wish to emphasize some basic elements, so as to call forth in the world renewed energy and commitment in the human response to God's love" (1).

Those who know the love of Christ must share it with others because

I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him and, thus, towards unity with all Christians. We have become "one body", completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself (14).
Who then is my neighbor we might well ask. Pope Benedict reaffirms that

Anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor. The concept of "neighbor" is now universalized, yet it remains concrete. Despite being extended to all mankind, it is not reduced to a generic, abstract and undemanding expression of love, but calls for my own practical commitment here and now (15).
The concept of "neighbor" now applies to all mankind because we can help everyone come to realize the love that God has for them and for us in what we say and in what we do. We must always remember:

Jesus identifies himself with those in need, with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40). Love of God and love of neighbor have become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God (15).
By the by, if you have not yet read the Holy Father's Enclyclical, shame on you! :) Get to it right away! It is powerful, beautiful, and transforming. And it is easy to read; Pope Benedict is a poet at heart.

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