‘Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’
Last Sunday the Catholic Church celebrated the end of the liturgical year with the Feast of Christ the King. This feast provides an opportunity for us all to stop and reflect on our lives before the start of the Advent season. The theme of the feast calls us to lead our lives differently. The Gospel for this Sunday is from Luke 23: 35-43 where Christ is being mocked on the cross by both the rulers and soldiers.”Above him there was an inscription that read, This is the King of the Jews.” This gospel begins in describing the crowd that stood by and watched Christ being crucified and ends with Christ promising paradise to the repentant criminal being crucified alongside him.
In thinking about those who witnessed these events and stood by and watched, the question for me is has anything changed over the last 2000 years? Why do we still stand back and watch the social injustices that occur in our world daily? Are we so disempowered as a society to act to prevent such injustices? Do we feel powerless or overwhelmed in the face of so many issues? Poverty, homelessness, famine, war, the marginalisation of those with disabilities, asylum seekers, Indigenous disadvantage, mental health, destruction of communities for commercial greed, the list becomes daunting to the point of paralysis. Or is it rather that in challenging such issues, like the repentant criminal on the cross, we need to first admit to own failings and weaknesses and then find the hope that Christ promises us before we can truly offer hope to those in need.
Looking at ourselves is paradoxically one of the most challenging, yet potentially fruitful responses we can make to social injustices of our world. We are all a product of our attitudes, opinions, beliefs, prejudices and faith. These may come to us from our caregivers as children, the type of society we grew up in or from our experiences throughout our adult lives. But in order to be truly effective agents of change we need to understand the origins of the assumptions that form us and challenge them to see how they affect others. For example, we all at times can tend to stereotype others on the basis of some physical characteristic, the colour of their skin, the clothes they wear, the job they do, the way they speak. At such times we can unconsciously view people as ‘like ourselves’ or classify them as ‘others’ not like us. The moment this happens we are distancing ourselves from that person, severing ourselves from the sense of solidarity that we are all called towards for the common good.
Ben Harvey in last Saturdays’ West Australian reported on a social experiment when a company chairman went undercover begging as a homeless person on the streets of Perth in order to raise awareness of St Barts House. While most people either ignored him to the point of being callous, the company executive reported that his “faith in humanity” was restored by a few passers-by gave him money, inquired about his health or made sure he was fed. These few people were acting in that true sense of solidarity and showed a commitment to a level of leadership that acts to break our paralysis.
According to Bishop Justin from the Geraldton Diocese, the Feast of Christ the King should be rather the feast of Christ the Leader. Christ’s leadership was evident in practicing what he preached even on the Cross. Those responding to the homeless on our streets are doing the same. As parents most of us believe we have a unique responsibility of leadership for our children, perhaps as Christians we need to extend the same belief to our role in society. As Bishop Justin concludes “there is no guarantee that good example will always produce a desired result; but it can be safely argued that, with good example, there is more chance of a good result being achieved than there is without such example”