Our Gaze upon the City

Ronald Rolheiser
Rome, Italy
May 25, 2014.
Reproduced with Permission

Jesus, it seems, had mixed feelings towards the world. He loved the world, laid down his life for it, and challenged us to love the world, even as he criticized it harshly and stated clearly that it was opposed to him.

So what's to be our attitude? How are we to see the world? Is our gaze to be one of judgment or sympathy? Do we weep over the world in sympathy as Jesus wept over Jerusalem or do we strive to keep ourselves separate from a world that habitually scapegoats its God and crucifies its Christ? Are we too soft or too hard on our world?

Maybe we need first to ask: What exactly constitutes the world? Is it that part the world which opposes the churches: strident secularism, militant atheism, and the mass exodus in some parts of the world of people from the churches? Or, is it that part of our world which seems indifferent to the churches: pop culture, the entertainment industry, the sports industry, mainstream academia, the editorials in most of our major newspapers? Or, given the fact that it was religiously-minded people who orchestrated the crucifixion, might the world that opposes Christ be huge parts of religion itself: Christian fundamentalism, Extreme Islam, misguided faith of all kinds?

The question isn't easy. The world that opposes Christ, I suspect, is made up of all of these, the strident, the indifferent, and the misguided. All are interwoven in our present world and help constitute a darkness that the Word is trying to penetrate. But that darkness has its own ambivalence. Inside that stridency, seeming indifference, and misguided religion, we see all kinds of light as well. Darkness, itself, is not pure, and this can leave us in a quandary as to how we should, ideally, gaze upon our world.

Scripture assures us that God is the author of all that is good. Hence everything in our world that radiates life, goodness, health, generosity, faith, intelligence, color, and wit comes from God, irrespective of where it is embedded. Hence when we look at our world we may not superficially and easily divide it into two parts, one good and the other bad. When we do that, we end up often putting God in opposition to God and creating the very thing off of which atheism can feed. Atheism, as Michael Buckley so astutely asserts, is always a parasite that feeds off bad religion. Seeing the God's presence in the world as either black or white is bad religion.

So how should we view our world, how might we gaze upon the city within which we live? We need to gaze upon our city in the same way as Jesus gazed upon his city, Jerusalem, when he wept over it with equal parts of sympathy and judgment. What do I see when I look upon the city I presently live in and upon the different cities within which I have lived? First of all, I see everyone I have ever loved living there. Neither the city nor the world is an abstract concept. To speak of either is to speak of our loved ones and that healthily complicates both our sympathy and our judgment. If I believe the world to be a bad place, what am I saying about my loved ones? And what sets me apart? Still, a certain judgment still needs to be made. Is our world good or bad?

On the one hand, when I look at our world today, I see, in many places, a lot of good, a world bursting with energy, color, zest, and with a healthy thirst for life and the transcendent. I see that the majority of people are good-hearted, honest, generous, and desirous of peace. I see wonderful intelligence and wit. I see a healthy pride and a healthy (if at times, overdone) emphasis on the physical and on bodily health. Very importantly too I see a world that, in most places, is growing in tolerance in terms of racism, sexism, and religion.

On the other hand, I also see a world that is often shallow, self-absorbed, and not given over much to sacrifice. I see a world within which the rich do not care enough about the poor. I see a world that is far too irresponsible in its sexual ethos. I see a world that is becoming addicted to information technology without any critical reaction. I see a world that is unhealthily prone to ideology, hype, and fad, that lives too much in the moment rather than in hope, that finds it difficult to grow up, that finds it difficult to accept aging and death, and that has not moved beyond an adolescent grandiosity in terms of appropriating its own faith heritage.

So what do our cities look like? Are they good or bad? Our own cities, I suspect, look a lot like Jerusalem looked to Jesus as he gazed upon it - mostly good, honest folk, struggling because we won't let God help us.