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Dictionaries are full of ambivalent words. For example, the word “indifference” has more than a single definition.

Christian spirituality, especially Ignatian spirituality, teaches the need for indifference at the moment of choosing between good options. Whoever stands at a crossroads should not be bound by their passions. No one can make the right choice if he goes by the nefarious criterion of, “If I like it, I will do it; if I don’t like it, I will not do it.”

An uncertain Christian enters prayer with indifference, asking, “Lord, what do you want me to choose?” When he sees the path with clarity, indifference has fulfilled its task; that is the moment when the person at prayer makes his decision. It is important that he later seek external confirmation with a spiritual director or an ecclesial superior.

Pope Francis’ message for this Lent, “Make your hearts firm” (James 5:8), uses the term “indifference” for its main meaning of nonchalance, not being inclined or not feeling rejection towards something or someone.

In the ordinary sense, you can tell who is indifferent when a person uses expressions such as “I couldn’t care less,” or “So what?” In his message, however, Pope Francis deplores the globalization of such indifference, which is nothing more than forgetting about our neighbor, that is, lack of brotherly love.

The Roman Pontiff recalls that the most reprehensible indifference appeared early in human history. The fratricide Cain committed was the first grave indifference. When God asks him about Abel, he answers in a detached manner, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9). The Bible abounds with cases of indifference. Let’s also remember how the children of Jacob got rid of their brother Joseph, selling him as a slave to some Ishmaelites (Gen 37:27).

The Pope points out that the flood of “news reports and troubling images of human suffering” may contribute to indifference these days. There are more cruel and heartbreaking events in the news all the time. With so many horrific crimes, we must avoid the lack of sensitivity that deters us from feeling called to remedy these evils. We cannot give up, saying that there is nothing we can do.

We can always pray for those who suffer, wherever they are. The pope also says, "We can help by acts of charity, reaching out to both those near and far through the Church’s many charitable organizations.”

The Bishop of Rome invites us to find inspiration in God himself. He is not aloof from us. He says, "God is interested in each of us. He knows us by name, he cares for us and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him.”

It is also helpful to appeal to the Communion of Saints by praying to the saints in heaven, because they are the ones, the pope writes, "who have triumphed once and for all over indifference, hardness of heart and hatred."

Sacramental life is an excellent remedy against indifference. By receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, not only is our vertical union intensified with the Lord, but our fraternal union is also strengthened. St. Paul refers to the horizontal fruit of the Eucharist with these words: "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor 10:17).

The important thing is to not let Lent pass by without feeling questioned by this liturgical season that the pope calls a “time of grace” (2 Cor 6:2).

Comments from readers

Michele MacEachern - 03/16/2015 04:24 PM
Thank you, Father Barrios, for your reflection on indifference to our neighbor. Actually, I confess that I have never heard of the "indifference" regarding the choice between two good things. I see it as "openness" to make the best Gospel choice for me in a particular time and in a specific place. Same idea; different terms.
Sister Lidia Valli - 03/16/2015 01:55 PM
At the Marian Center we have taken at heart the Pope'suggestions and have made the prayer: "Jesus, make our hearts like yours" our prayer. Our students and adults with intellectual disabilities do not let us to be indifferent in the way that the Pope discourage. Their relationship with God helps us to care, to be involved, to thank for them and with them for the gift of the Marian Center. Thanks for this reflection.

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