This is the book by a Christian leader I have been looking for for sometime; a book which offers meaning in the coronavirus pandemic and points to what the ‘new normal’ could look like. While recognising the terrible disruption, devastation and suffering caused by Covid-19 the book is also a message of challenge and hope to the world, nations, the Church and individuals.
Francis’ basic thesis is that crises change us because they expose issues about ourselves and the world which have hitherto been hidden or only dimly perceived. Crises bring them into sharp focus. They present us with the opportunity to change for better or for worse. As we emerge from the pandemic we can either embrace change or retreat to life as it was before. The pandemic is a time to see, a time to choose and a time to act.
As Pope Francis looks at the world he sees narcissism, individualism, societies driven by profit, a desire for increasing affluence and disregard for the common good. These have nurtured poverty, social deprivation, populism, a break down of communities and progressive damage to our planet by climate change and environmental destruction. The pandemic has shone a bright light on them across the world. These values are not only the preserve of governments and unfettered free markets but they have been absorbed by people in their every day lives.
Francis then takes us on to the next stage of making a choice. If chapter one is the most disturbing part of the book, chapters two and three are the most helpful. He asks how can we find God’s way forward, how can we distinguish his voice from those around us and how can we discern what the Spirit is saying to us? The answers are rooted in knowing that we are loved by God who calls us to be a people of service, of common interest and mutual support. He draws on the Sermon on the Mount which he calls ‘the grammar of the kingdom’.
A Time to Act is a serious critique of the values, policies and practices of much of the global community. He offers new ways forward to make the world a better place. But he draws the threads around us personally asking what we can do now and in a post pandemic world to become better people making a better world so that ‘our people may have life’. (John 10:10)
Every page sparkles with Francis’ passionate faith in God, his great love of humanity and the profound wisdom of his long life which if we take to heart gives us a deep reservoir of hope.
– Review by The Revd Canon Dr John Searle, Canon Emeritus