A New Era of Responsibility
As I listened to Barack Obama’s inauguration speech I began to reflect on the theme of Hope. During the presidential campaign Obama ran on a platform based on hope and change. Coincidently, in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI offered his most recent Encyclical on the theme of hope. In this document Pope Benedict places considerable attention on the relationship of hope and suffering. “Suffering is a part of Human existence,” and in an era of social and economic crisis we have all become very much aware of the suffering and sacrifice that is now part of our reality.
The very reason we have hope is because we believe in a better world than the one we are experiencing now. If there was no suffering and nothing was wrong, then there would be no reason for us to even have hope. Hope does not just affirm that there is pain and suffering in our world, it also chooses to believe that we can do something positive about it. Through hope we pledge to take responsibility for the personal and social suffering we witness in the aspiration that a better world is possible. As Pope Benedict reminds us in his recent Encyclical:
The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through “com-passion” is a cruel and inhuman society.
In his inaugural speech President Obama shifted the focus from his message of hope to the pragmatic realities of a suffering world. The goal of hope is still there, but now as we venture forth to accomplish this hope we must do so by taking compassionate responsibility to the suffering in our society:
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow, to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
The hope for our future is based on this new era of responsibility to the suffering of our world. As a Catholic and as a Passionist I very much welcome this vision to usher in this new era that is so consistent with our Catholic social tradition and Passionist spirituality.