This is the name of a Jesuit priest who lived from 1881-1955. He was both a paleontologist as well as a Jesuit priest. His two great writings were “The Phenomenon of Man” and “The Divine Milieu.” The “Phenomenon of Man” set forth a sweeping view of evolution, placing the human at the pinnacle of evolution, and “The Divine Milieu” was a spiritual view of the cosmos. Teilhard was convinced that our task as believers in this century leads us into the heart of life here and now. He writes at one point: “If as a baptized Christian I am conscious of my dignity, I should live for the world to the full extent of my power. I wish to become conscious of all that the world loves, pursues and suffers. I want to be the first to seek, to sympathize, and to share the pain of my sisters and brothers; I want to open myself out. To become more widely human and more nobly of the earth…”
Mario Cuomo, a former governor of New York, was asked to join two other panelists in New York City, discussing the question: “Why Am I a Believer?” Cuomo quoted the passage I just quoted, stating that at one point in his life he seriously questioned his Catholic faith. However, he came to believe and was convinced that there was a relationship between being a believer and a citizen. Said Cuomo: “If I am convinced that Jesus Christ was right, than what he asks of me is belief and trust in the same world he believed in and trusted. He calls me to throw myself into this world of work, of society, of family and friends, of chaos and pain, this world of joy and goodness. I make mistakes. I sin. However, I am not for that reason exempt from trying to make this world more human. That’s what faith compels me to do.”
Is that what faith calls us to do? The disciples, after Jesus’ resurrection, continued to think that his resurrection meant that they were all going to get back together again and build some kind of theocracy, or a new political situation. They asked Jesus: “Lord are you going to restore the rule to Israel now?” His answer? “I’m not going to do anything anymore. It’s you who are to be my witnesses in Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth.” In other words: “I’m out of the picture; I’m gone; the task is yours.” The bible then states how two angels reinforce the message: “People of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up at the sky?” In other words: get on with life. It is a new chapter.
It is because of our baptism that we are messengers of hope to the world. Jesus’ task is our task to renew the face of the earth. Let me give you one example, close to my experience where that concretely happened. Thirty-five years ago, a ministry was started by the parish I served: St Francis of Assisi in Raleigh, North Carolina. Our parishioners joined with Lincoln Park Holiness Church in the African American section of Raleigh. It was a small congregation in the middle of a poor area. We came together to help break the cycle of poverty for people in that neighborhood by connecting families and neighborhoods to resources and opportunities. We called it “Passage Home.”
One of the leaders of our community described what happened. “We began in 1991 helping 2 families a year in our housing programs and grew from there. Now, we help at least 360 families a year. On simple averages, we have helped a couple thousand families, not only to find homes, but also to be self-empowered with jobs and careers. Starting with one house. Today
Passage Home has an annual budget of $3.5m, and a staff 0f 28. “Why,” someone asked, “is this the church’s business? Isn’t it the city’s problem, Raleigh’s public housing’s responsibility?” Good question. The answer is simple. To be a follower of Jesus Christ does not mean that we either hide our heads in the sand or lift up our heads gazing heaven ward. We are believers and citizens. Jesus has left us. He is gone. In this world, his task is ours. Nothing human is alien to the Christian. And, where pain and sorrow, the inhuman, touches one of us, all of us are called to respond.
Of course, we are not on our own. His spirit guides us. We are filled with gratitude, for how the Spirit of Jesus compels us. In addition, we know it does not end here. We are filled with joy, eager to be his disciples and bring a measure of hope to our world. This is the message of the theologian-philosopher Teilhard de Chardin lived out. We may not read all that he wrote, or believe it all, but this is what he taught us and we are proud to try to make it our own. “Nothing human is alien to us.”
David McBriar, O.F.M.