Donate to RNS

Pope’s new book speaks to COVID crisis and beyond

The pope says that the pandemic has produced true martyrs but also malefactors who have preyed on the suffering of others.

Pope Francis waves at the end of his Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Oct. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

(RNS) — Pope Francis agrees with former Chicago mayor and Obama administration aide Rahm Emanuel that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. But while Emanuel sees crises as political opportunities, Francis sees them as spiritual challenges.

“The basic rule of a crisis is that you don’t come out of it the same,” explains Francis in “Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future,” his new book released December 1. “If you get through it, you come out better or worse, but never the same.”

In a crisis, the pope writes, “you reveal your own heart: how solid it is, how merciful, how big or small.”

The COVID-19 “crisis has called forth in some a new courage and compassion,” he writes. Some “have responded with the desire to reimagine our world; others have come to the aid of those in need in concrete ways that can transform our neighbor’s suffering.”

According to Francis, the pandemic has produced martyrs, “men and women who have laid down their lives in service to those most in need.” But it has also exposed usurers and payday lenders who have preyed on the suffering of others.

It is not only individuals who are tested by the COVID crisis, but governments who have to choose: “What matters more: to take care of people or keep the financial system going?” the pope asks. “Do we look after people, or sacrifice them for the sake of the stock market?”

Francis notes that the pandemic is not the only crisis facing the world. There are “a thousand other crises that are just as dire,” such as “wars scattered across different parts of the world; of the production and trade in weapons; of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing poverty, hunger, and lack of opportunity; of climate change.”

“Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future” by Pope Francis. Courtesy image

But Francis does not want the world to “return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis.”

He argues that “it is an illusion to think that we can go back to where we were. Attempts at restoration always take us down a dead-end street.”

Rather, “this is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek.”

That dreaming, he writes, requires us to “slow down, take stock, and design better ways of living together on this earth.”

Francis is convinced that this must lead to “a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded, and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that impact their lives.”

The economy is at the heart of this effort. “We must redesign the economy so that it can offer every person access to a dignified existence while protecting and regenerating the natural world.”

He complains that “a fixation with constant economic growth has become destabilizing, producing vast inequalities and putting the natural world out of balance.” As a result, in response to the last recession, “governments spent billions of dollars rescuing the banks and financial markets, and the people had to endure a decade of austerity.”

To get to this new politics and economics, we must reject “the fallacy of making individualism the organizing principle of society.”

As if speaking for young people in the streets of America, he asserts, “We need a movement of people who know we need each other, who have a sense of responsibility to others and to the world.”

He acknowledges that “working for the common good are great life goals that need courage and vigor.”

While the modern era promoted equality and liberty with great determination, he asserts, today there is a need “to focus on fraternity with the same drive and tenacity to confront the challenges ahead.”

The first step in finding this new world, he says, is “to open your eyes and let the suffering around you touch you, so that you hear the Spirit of God speaking to you from the margins.” Indifference blocks the Spirit when it is “waiting to offer us possibilities that overflow our mental schemes and categories.”

We must also recognize that all that we have is an unearned gift from God and reject “the myth of self-sufficiency.” That kind of thinking leads us to believe that “the earth exists to be plundered; that others exist to meet our needs; that what we have earned or what we lack is what we deserve; that my reward is riches, even if that means that the fate of others will be poverty.”

The gratitude that comes from recognizing that all we have is unearned gifts, on the other hand, will lead us to embrace “a culture of service, not a throwaway culture.”

As he explains, “The damage to our planet stems from the loss of this awareness of gratitude.” If we look carefully, we see “humanity is getting ever sicker along with our common home, with our environment, with creation.”

For Francis, it is essential that we transcend individualism and seek the common good. “The common good is the good we all share in,” he explains, “the good of the people as a whole, as well as the good we hold in common that should be for all.”

When society loses its concern for the common good, it is in trouble. “Once people lose a sense of the common good,” he argues, “history shows that we are left with anarchy or authoritarianism or both together: a violent, unstable society.”

The COVID crisis presents us with serious challenges, and it is up to us how we will respond. “We need to choose fraternity over individualism as our organizing principle,” he concludes. “Fraternity, the sense of belonging to each other and to the whole of humanity, is the capacity to come together and work together against a shared horizon of possibility.”