Several days ago, I was in a store buying a few last-minute items for the Christmas holiday, and none too pleased about the prospect, either. As a dedicated online shopper, I was annoyed at myself for not having ordered from Amazon in time, and I needed to recite more than one silent “Hail Mary” to maintain my patience as I waited in the slow-moving checkout line. Both my winter coat and my face mask felt stifling, and I shrank from nearby patrons, worried they might waft COVID or flu germs (or both) my way.
As if on cue, the store’s music shuffle began playing Lee Brice’s “Hey World,” a pop-country plea for solitude:
Leave me alone
I don’t wanna turn on the TV
Ain’t nothin’ but bad news on…
This heart’s worn out
Had all it can take…
Don’t call me up today
I won’t be pickin’ up the phone…
Suddenly I found myself humming along to lyrics that hit all too close to home. After two years of pandemic, unrest, violence, injustice and disasters, I felt I couldn’t bear to stare at one more statistic, read about one more murder, hear one more screeching siren, listen to one more bitter rant, see one more anguished face.
I knew God wasn’t to blame for such misery; his grace was sure, but there was something terribly wrong with us: too many suffering, too many causing suffering, and too many turning away from it all because, like me, they just felt utterly overwhelmed and longed to run away, as far and as fast as possible, from another year of the same.
In his Christmas Day message, Pope Francis observed that more and more of us are taking up the “Hey World” anthem: “Our capacity for social relationships is sorely tried; there is a growing tendency to withdraw, to do it all by ourselves, to stop making an effort to encounter others and do things together.”
That opt-out stance has global consequences, he said: “On the international level too, there is the risk of avoiding dialogue, the risk that this complex crisis will lead to taking shortcuts rather than setting out on the longer paths of dialogue.”
As a result, said the pope, “we continue to witness a great number of conflicts, crises and disagreements” that “never seem to end.”
In fact, said Pope Francis, “by now we hardly even notice them. We have become so used to them that immense tragedies are now being passed over in silence; we risk not hearing the cry of pain and distress of so many of our brothers and sisters.”
He reminded us the people of Syria have “for more than a decade have experienced a war that has resulted in many victims and an untold number of displaced persons”; Iraq too “still struggles to recover from a lengthy conflict.”
In Yemen, 21 million – more than half of them children – desperately need humanitarian aid, yet remain “overlooked by everyone,” said Pope Francis, while in Lebanon, more than 6 million are daily plunging further into poverty amid that nation’s “unprecedented crisis.”
And yet, said the pope, “in the heart of the night” shines “the sign of hope”: Christ, born anew – and not to be packed away with our holiday decorations so that, having celebrated the miracle of the Incarnation, we can simply return to what we’ve been calling “normal.”
As Catholics, we are privileged to hold the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Savior in our hands and in our hearts – to receive the Lord in holy Communion, even daily if we so desire.
And having received him, we are called not to run from the confusion and brokenness of our society, but to instead ring out Christ’s song – one that also starts with the words “hey, world,” yet ends on a much different note: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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