For many of us, the Lenten season is an opportunity to reflect on the year that is now passed in a way that prepares us for the seasons ahead.
And what a year it has been — the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the social upheaval and political mayhem that we are experiencing, has made us feel vulnerable and powerless.
What can we do? Can it be that we are part of the problem?
The truly saddening realization from this year is that we are reminded that so many of our fellow humans have felt this way throughout their whole lives.
So, as thoughtful, empathetic sojourners committed to lives of virtue, what are we to do?
Part of the Lenten experience involves reflecting on the conversations described in the Bible, such as the one between Noah and God in today’s First Reading, where Noah is reminded that he has been empowered to understand and act on the community of humanity to spread the sacred knowledge.
Perhaps we should take an additional cue from the Stoic philosophers that pondered these issues some 2,000 years ago. The ancient idea of “sympatheia” — which undergirds our common word, sympathy — suggests that we are all connected through a network of virtue in concern and affinity for each other.
However, it can be very difficult for us to recognize “sympatheia” in people whose words and rhetoric are foreign to us and may feel polarizing.
When we tackle the things that are difficult, such as talking to someone with whom we disagree, we also have the opportunity for profound insight and change. We might experience this season of renewal to once again commit to the difficult conversations that lie ahead as we wrestle with the social demons of the world in which we live.
Other human populations have endured pandemics in times of profound social inequality. Sometimes, they have emerged stronger, more equitable, and heading just a bit more towards the ideas of peaceful social equality.
If we allow ourselves the opportunity of risk and reach out to those with whom we are in conflict, perhaps we can discover a new friend. With them we might share the “sympatheia” of our lives, thus to transform our own feelings of self-worth, connectedness, and empowerment.