by Father Mark Goldasich
Ever heard of a paradigm shift?
The dictionary defines a paradigm as “a model or pattern for something that may be copied.” So, a paradigm shift is “a dramatic or significant change in the paradigm of any discipline or group.” While that’s true, it’s an awfully dry way to look at things. The following story, found in Steven Covey’s classic “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” shows what a paradigm shift looks like in real life:
One Sunday morning Covey was on a subway in New York. Passengers were sitting quietly, napping, reading the paper, lost in thought. But the peaceful scene vanished when a man and his children suddenly boarded. The children were loud and rowdy, disrupting the entire car.
The dad sat down beside Covey, seemingly oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling, throwing things and even grabbing people’s papers. Although it was very disturbing, the father did nothing.
As the confusion grew worse, Covey finally turned and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”
The man snapped out of his reverie and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”
“Can you imagine what I felt at that moment?” writes Covey. “My paradigm shifted. Suddenly, I saw things differently and, because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished . . . my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. ‘Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’ Everything changed in an instant.” (Adapted from “Paradigm Shift,” found in “Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes,” by Robert J. Morgan.)
If I had to define the teaching of Pope Francis in just two words, I’d definitely say, “Paradigm shift.” That is certainly on display in his recent encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.” Even though I’ve had the encyclical for over two months, I haven’t read the whole thing yet. It’s not because it’s long (which it is) or that it’s complicated (which it’s not). Rather, I consider it like a rich dessert: You can only handle a little bit at a time and want to savor each bite.
“Laudato Si’” is chock-full of points to ponder. Whenever I find something that is moving or challenging or thought provoking, I put the manuscript aside and reflect. At the rate I’m going, I may never finish it!
That’s why I’m so grateful to Msgr. Stuart Swetland who has written a thorough introduction and summary of some of the main points of this encyclical. (His article begins on page 1 and then jumps to the center spread.) If you don’t have a hard copy of “Laudato Si’,” you can find one online by googling its name. Read Msgr. Swetland’s article with the encyclical by your side to savor the particular passages that he highlights. I’d recommend not gorging on the whole of Msgr. Swetland’s article in one sitting, but take it a little at a time so you can digest his and the encyclical’s ideas.
The paradigm shift that Pope Francis is asking especially First-World Catholics to make is to move from being mindless consumers in a throwaway culture to becoming aware of “just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace” (LS, 10). He asks us to move from “widespread indifference” to consider instead “the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture” (LS 25; 43). The pope, though, is optimistic that “things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home” (LS, 13).
Ever the practical person, Pope Francis proposes a number of simple ways to begin the paradigm shift. See the graphic on page 9 for how your family can begin to live the encyclical.
I thought about the potential impact of “Laudato Si’” when I read this beautiful passage from Presbyterian minister Carol Howard Merritt in her book, “Sick, and You Cared for Me”: “What would happen if Christians invested as much time into doing the right things as believing the right things? . . . Our world would probably look much different than it does now. Perhaps it would look a little more like ‘Earth as it is in Heaven’ if we actually worked for an Earth that mirrors Heaven.”
Can I get an “Amen”?