One of Teresa’s most practical and pithy observations, about life and about us, is this:
Whoever does not grow shrinks.
The insight is applicable in so many ways. Life does not stand still, and it is always presenting us with challenges and invitations. Either we mature—through engaging challenges, through learning from mistakes, through pursuing knowledge and growing our characters—or we become smaller, through pettiness, bitterness, loss of integrity, lack of generosity and self-sharing. The tensions inherent in such choices are clear to us, and that, too, can weary and overwhelm us.
All of the above is also very true not just of us individually but collectively, at all levels of our social fabric: our family ties can grow and deepen or erode under the challenges of daily life and the crises and dramas that surge up among us. Our communities can rise to the occasions for growth that crisis, injustice, and suffering present or we can choose to look away from common good as life begins to pick us off, one by one. Our national interests can be broad-minded and humane—education, healthcare, social support and skills-building—or narrow-minded and permeated with corruption, greed, and individual and tribal narcissism.
Crying out at least as urgently, in this current moment, is the well-being of our planet and the support of the ecosystems that make the earth a home for all of its inhabitants. Now it is crystal clear that growth in sustainable ways of living, with a careful scrutiny and complete overhaul of our social, economic and political thinking and practices, is the “growth” that we need to embrace, willingly and collaboratively, with the “new and universal solidarity” that Pope Francis has called for.
Although Teresa may not have faced some of the grave challenges that we do, her clarity about the importance of our daily commitment to growth can help us choose to grow toward the truth of our interconnectedness. We can grow in our concern for our planet, our sincere love for our fellow human beings and our unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society. (See Pope Francis, Laudato’ si: On Care for Our Common Home, par. 91)
The important thing is to choose daily to grow.