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By Christopher Rice
Laudato Si’ Movement Theological Consultant
Christopher Rice is an associate professor of philosophy at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, USA. His academic interests include human well-being, environmental ethics, and Catholic Social Teaching.
“Jesus… said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it’” (Mark 10:14-15).
“I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically” (LS 10).
Confronting the challenges of the present day can be overwhelming.
From the climate crisis to poverty to various forms of violence and discrimination, the crises we face require careful attention to facts – facts about nature and human society that are often discouraging.
Some people argue that authentic solutions are impossible. Others dwell relentlessly on the facts, looking to strategize, or compromise, or invent some quick resolution.
In the Gospels, Jesus approves of prudent forethought, asking, “which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost?” (Luke 14:28).
Our work to confront a problem like the climate crisis or global poverty needs to be realistic, attuned to the true nature of the crises, the communities most at risk, and the political realities that constrain our initiatives.
Yet, the joyful ethos of St. Francis and Jesus’ welcoming of the children point to another dimension of Christian spirituality which is likewise required for meeting the current moment.
As a complement to the practical work of studying facts, weighing alternatives, and moving people to action, God calls us a radical hope and generosity that is not so immediately tied to the practical.
In the Christian context, hope is a theological virtue – a result of God’s grace – by which we anticipate with trust God’s promise of eternal fulfillment in heaven.
St. Francis had a deeply otherworldly perspective. While he rejoiced in the physical, tangible, splendid beauty of nature, he also appreciated this in light of Jesus’ redeeming actions toward the world. This gave St. Francis a sustaining hope in all his trials.
Similarly, St. Francis reached out toward his neighbor with radical generosity, responding based on God’s moving impulse and, again, God’s grace in his life.
Whether in his compassionate greeting of the leper or his sensitive mentorship of disciples, St. Francis was present to those around him, acting with Christian joy and authenticity. There is a certain “timelessness” to St. Francis, as he was deeply rooted in unwavering love for his Savior more than in fear or calculation of worldly things.
Similarly, Jesus’ call to “accept the kingdom of God like a child” points toward the need for radical hope and generosity.
Jesus is not telling Christians to be childishly naïve – to remain ignorant of the facts of the world and how the powerful will often exploit the weak.
Yet, there is much to learn from children. The boundless trust in God that characterizes Christian hope is similar to the affectionate bonds that can be formed by a young child, and the in-the-moment generosity to which we, like St. Francis, are called, also finds an image in the simple love that children can show at their best moments.
How do we combine a sober, hard-headed engagement with the challenges of the 21st century and a childlike openness to hope, generosity, wonder, and joy? It’s not easy.
Many influences push us in one direction or the other (or distract us from both) and balancing it all can take the patient work of a lifetime. Acknowledging the importance of both value sets is a part of it. And we can also call on God’s help and grace in embracing these essential virtues.
- How is God calling me to grow at this moment – toward greater engagement with the facts underlying our current crises and toward greater hope and generosity?
- What is one way I can emulate the spirituality of St. Francis this month and “accept the kingdom of God like a child”?
This scriptural reflection is part of the October 2021 Laudato Si’ Encounter. This spiritual resource is produced monthly for Laudato Si’ Animators, Laudato Si’ Circles, and everyday Catholics to use and help them grow closer to our Creator. For similar stories, visit the Laudato Si’ Movement website here.