This Lent, Pope Francis invites people to stop being indifferent. A dictionary defines difference as “showing a lack of interest or concern.” Ask your students how that definition resonates in their own experiences, especially among peers. Also consider these other points about indifference and how to combat it:
1. Have your students spend a quiet moment comparing two past experiences in their lives, one positive experience, the other a negative experience. The positive experience should be of a time when life seemed to be going their way and they were able to simply enjoy their successes. The negative experience should be of a time when they felt discouraged about how things were going or were perhaps suffering in some way (e.g., from an illness or a death in the family). Call on students to explain their answers to both of these questions:
- Were you more aware of the needs of others when you were feeling good or when you were feeling discouraged?
- Were other people more aware of how you were doing when you were feeling good or feeling discouraged?
Share these words of Pope Francis: “As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off.” Ask the students if his words resonate with their own experience.
2. If students have ever felt ignored by friends when they are struggling, they may have been on that side of indifference (“a lack of interest or concern about something”). Ask students to suggest some antonyms (and close antonyms) for indifference and write them on the board (e.g., concern, interest, awareness, sensitivity, care, love). Ask students to select among these antonyms that they also think are also Gospel values. Point out that, by asking people to give up indifference, the pope is asking people to live Gospel values this Lent.
3. Pope Francis believes that indifference has grown from a problem of a few individuals to being a larger problem for society: “Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront.” Ask students to provide several examples of indifference in personal relationships, school culture, local society, nationally, and internationally. List and discuss these examples.
4. The pope makes other points about indifference and the Catholic faith.
- He writes that God is the very opposite of indifference, that he is very interested in each person, in each one of them. Since God is Love, loving is incompatible with indifference.
- The Church should not be indifferent because it is the Body of Christ and according to St. Paul, “If one member suffers, all suffer together.” Ask students to mention some times when they witnessed this sort of solidarity or were part of it themselves. The pope suggests that the Eucharist helps shape Catholics into the Body of Christ where there is no room for indifference.
- God calls Christian communities to go outside of themselves and be engaged with the greater society, especially the poor. The Church is not self-enclosed. He says, “In each of our neighbors, then, we must see a brother or sister for whom Christ died and rose again. What we ourselves have received, we have received for them as well. Similarly, all that our brothers and sisters possess is a gift for the Church and for all humanity.”
- Pope Francis calls Christians to engage in a formation of the heart – a heart that is strong enough to resist temptation but that can still be touched by the Holy Spirit. “The suffering of others is a call to conversion, since their need reminds me of the uncertainty of my own life and my dependence on God and my brothers and sisters.” Remind your students that prayer is an important way to form their heart and respond to the needs of others. Lent is also a good time to reach out in charity to others. Ask students to consider how the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can be a way to address indifference. In prayer, it is possible to petition God on behalf of those who are suffering. Fasting is a way to suffer with others who suffer, to increase awareness of what others lack. Finally, almsgiving is a way to share resources with those who have less.
View the full text of Pope Francis' Lenten message here.