As silence and careful listening disappear, replaced by a frenzy of texting, this basic structure of sage human communication is at risk. A new lifestyle is emerging, where we create only what we want and exclude all that we cannot control or know instantly and superficially. This process, by its intrinsic logic, blocks the kind of serene reflection that could lead us to a shared wisdom.
Together, we can seek the truth in dialogue, in relaxed conversation or in passionate debate. To do so calls for perseverance; it entails moments of silence and suffering, yet it can patiently embrace the broader experience of individuals and peoples. The flood of information at our fingertips does not make for greater wisdom. Wisdom is not born of quick searches on the internet nor is it a mass of unverified data. That is not the way to mature in the encounter with truth. Conversations revolve only around the latest data; they become merely horizontal and cumulative. We fail to keep our attention focused, to penetrate to the heart of matters, and to recognize what is essential to give meaning to our lives. Freedom thus becomes an illusion that we are peddled, easily confused with the ability to navigate the internet. The process of building fraternity, be it local or universal, can only be undertaken by spirits that are free and open to authentic encounters.
Easter Is Our Ability to Listen to Others', A homily on articles 47-48, 'Information Without Wisdom' from Pope Francis's Fratelli Tutti, his letter on fraternity and social friendship
True wisdom demands an encounter with reality. Today, however, everything can be created, disguised and altered. A direct encounter even with the fringes of reality can thus prove intolerable. A mechanism of selection then comes into play, whereby I can immediately separate likes from dislikes, what I consider attractive from what I deem distasteful. In the same way, we can choose the people with whom we wish to share our world. Persons or situations we find unpleasant or disagreeable are simply deleted in today’s virtual networks; a virtual circle is then created, isolating us from the real world in which we are living.
The ability to sit down and listen to others, typical of interpersonal encounters, is paradigmatic of the welcoming attitude shown by those who transcend narcissism and accept others, caring for them and welcoming them into their lives. Yet “today’s world is largely a deaf world… At times, the frantic pace of the modern world prevents us from listening attentively to what another person is saying. Halfway through, we interrupt him and want to contradict what he has not even finished saying. We must not lose our ability to listen”. Saint Francis “heard the voice of God, he heard the voice of the poor, he heard the voice of the infirm and he heard the voice of nature. He made of them a way of life. My desire is that the seed that Saint Francis planted may grow in the hearts of many”.
Even as individuals maintain their comfortable consumerist isolation, they can choose a form of constant and febrile bonding that encourages remarkable hostility, insults, abuse, defamation and verbal violence destructive of others, and this with a lack of restraint that could not exist in physical contact without tearing us all apart. Social aggression has found unparalleled room for expansion through computers and mobile devices.
This has now given free rein to ideologies. Things that until a few years ago could not be said by anyone without risking the loss of universal respect can now be said with impunity, and in the crudest of terms, even by some political figures. Nor should we forget that “there are huge economic interests operating in the digital world, capable of exercising forms of control as subtle as they are invasive, creating mechanisms for the manipulation of consciences and of the democratic process. The way many platforms work often ends up favouring encounter between persons who think alike, shielding them from debate. These closed circuits facilitate the spread of fake news and false information, fomenting prejudice and hate”.
We should also recognize that destructive forms of fanaticism are at times found among religious believers, including Christians; they too “can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication. Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned”. How can this contribute to the fraternity that our common Father asks of us?
True, a worldwide tragedy like the Covid-19 pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all. Once more we realized that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together. As I said in those days, “the storm has exposed our vulnerability and uncovered those false and superfluous certainties around which we constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities… Amid this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about appearances, has fallen away, revealing once more the ineluctable and blessed awareness that we are part of one another, that we are brothers and sisters of one another”.
The world was relentlessly moving towards an economy that, thanks to technological progress, sought to reduce “human costs”; there were those who would have had us believe that freedom of the market was sufficient to keep everything secure. Yet the brutal and unforeseen blow of this uncontrolled pandemic forced us to recover our concern for human beings, for everyone, rather than for the benefit of a few. Today we can recognize that “we fed ourselves on dreams of splendour and grandeur, and ended up consuming distraction, insularity and solitude. We gorged ourselves on networking, and lost the taste of fraternity. We looked for quick and safe results, only to find ourselves overwhelmed by impatience and anxiety. Prisoners of a virtual reality, we lost the taste and flavour of the truly real”. The pain, uncertainty and fear, and the realization of our own limitations, brought on by the pandemic have only made it all the more urgent that we rethink our styles of life, our relationships, the organization of our societies and, above all, the meaning of our existence.
In this world that races ahead, yet lacks a shared roadmap, we increasingly sense that “the gap between concern for one’s personal well-being and the prosperity of the larger human family seems to be stretching to the point of complete division between individuals and human community… It is one thing to feel forced to live together, but something entirely different to value the richness and beauty of those seeds of common life that need to be sought out and cultivated”. Technology is constantly advancing, yet “how wonderful it would be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation could come with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, even as we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters who orbit around us”.
In today’s world, the sense of belonging to a single human family is fading, and the dream of working together for justice and peace seems an outdated utopia. What reigns instead is a cool, comfortable and globalized indifference, born of deep disillusionment concealed behind a deceptive illusion: thinking that we are all-powerful, while failing to realize that we are all in the same boat. This illusion, unmindful of the great fraternal values, leads to “a sort of cynicism. For that is the temptation we face if we go down the road of disenchantment and disappointment… Isolation and withdrawal into one’s own interests are never the way to restore hope and bring about renewal. Rather, it is closeness; it is the culture of encounter. Isolation, no; closeness, yes. Culture clash, no; culture of encounter, yes.”
With the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, we do not ignore the positive advances made in the areas of science, technology, medicine, industry and welfare, above all in developed countries. Nonetheless, “we wish to emphasize that, together with these historical advances, great and valued as they are, there exists a moral deterioration that influences international action and a weakening of spiritual values and responsibility. This contributes to a general feeling of frustration, isolation and desperation”. We see “outbreaks of tension and a buildup of arms and ammunition in a global context dominated by uncertainty, disillusionment, fear of the future, and controlled by narrow economic interests”. We can also point to “major political crises, situations of injustice and the lack of an equitable distribution of natural resources… In the face of such crises that result in the deaths of millions of children – emaciated from poverty and hunger – there is an unacceptable silence on the international level”. This panorama, for all its undeniable advances, does not appear to lead to a more humane future.
Paradoxically, we have certain ancestral fears that technological development has not succeeded in eliminating; indeed, those fears have been able to hide and spread behind new technologies. Today too, outside the ancient town walls lies the abyss, the territory of the unknown, the wilderness. Whatever comes from there cannot be trusted, for it is unknown, unfamiliar, not part of the village. It is the territory of the “barbarian”, from whom we must defend ourselves at all costs. As a result, new walls are erected for self-preservation, the outside world ceases to exist and leaves only “my” world, to the point that others, no longer considered human beings possessed of an inalienable dignity, become only “them”. Once more, we encounter “the temptation to build a culture of walls, to raise walls, walls in the heart, walls on the land, in order to prevent this encounter with other cultures, with other people. And those who raise walls will end up as slaves within the very walls they have built. They are left without horizons, for they lack this interchange with others”.
The loneliness, fear and insecurity experienced by those who feel abandoned by the system creates a fertile terrain for various “mafias”. These flourish because they claim to be defenders of the forgotten, often by providing various forms of assistance even as they pursue their criminal interests. There also exists a typically “mafioso” pedagogy that, by appealing to a false communitarian mystique, creates bonds of dependency and fealty from which it is very difficult to break free.
War, terrorist attacks, racial or religious persecution, and many other affronts to human dignity are judged differently, depending on how convenient it proves for certain, primarily economic, interests. What is true as long as it is convenient for someone in power stops being true once it becomes inconvenient. These situations of violence, sad to say, “have become so common as to constitute a real ‘third world war’ fought piecemeal”.
This should not be surprising, if we realize that we no longer have common horizons that unite us; indeed, the first victim of every war is “the human family’s innate vocation to fraternity”. As a result, “every threatening situation breeds mistrust and leads people to withdraw into their own safety zone”. Our world is trapped in a strange contradiction: we believe that we can “ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust”.
‘A pure heart create for me, O Lord’ (5th Sunday of Lent, Year B)
The closer we get to Good Friday with Jesus, the more we are astonished by the richness of the ‘inside’ of Jesus. Empires clash on the state of world-politics. Slowly, Rome’s power will be on the decline. The sky is getting darker and darker above Jesus. It has been long time decided - the desire is there in his opponents - that he needs to be silenced at any price. From an external point of view, on might say, that Jesus is scarcely able to keep one's head above water. From a human point of view, he is heading towards a tragic end.
Yet, what is really striking, the integrity of his thoughts and emotions. What is ‘inside’ Him, is the absolute opposite of the outside circumstances. He speaks with power. He speaks with absolute and unwavering love. His heart is so resilient. No trace of panic. He feels the pressure, when he says: ‘Now my soul is trobled.’ ‘But it was for this very reason that I have come to to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’ And in his last conversations, the most beautiful and hopeful teachings is shared with his disciples. These words (culminating in his high-priestly prayer on Holy Thursday, in the Last Supper) are perfectly formed. There is no prose or poem that a human artist could have worded. Only the Son of God, with his inner riches can speak like this. Jesus’ soul is full of health, he is in full control of his redemptive acts; what happens to him is not accidental, it can never destroy his integrity. His love for the Father, and for us, for whom he was sent.
Why is it so important to notice and focus on Jesus’ inner richness? For he shows us how important it is to ‘have a soul’. How important it is to have an unshakeable life in our heart. We have to work hard - this is our daily task - to have this ‘inner life’, this ‘inner space’ created and sustained in us by the Holy Spirit.
There are phases in one’s life when from within this ‘center’ we respond to joyful situations. When we enjoy God’s gift, each other’s company, on when we are compassionate, and in the position of listening to and helping others. There are times, and it does come, many times, when we need this inner strength and power of hope to face difficult situations. When someone in our family, or ourselves are seriously ill, or when we are under the pressures of life. You remember the puzzling question of Jesus when he says ‘whether the Son of man finds faith when he returns’. We can sum up the inner content of our ‘heart’ or ‘interior space’ as faith; also in the sense of the integrity of thinking.
Covid 19 is such a time when we need strength. On a personal level, losing someone, or as a community facing the global epidemic is like Jesus’ entering into his final passion. Are we going to panic? Give in, or turn away, or run away? Or, like the wise virgins with their lamps, we are using our time well to fill it up with oil? What about your inner life? Your spiritual life, your prayer life, your daily discernment, and sharing your life with Jesus, in conscious way? How resilient and focused your soul is? Let us ask ourselves.
Let us care for our our souls. Let us Jesus inner life, which is revealed on the threshold of his Passion, be our reference point. Let us be aware that this ‘inner space’ today is being replaced, on a mass scale, by ‘psychic death’. Our increasingly digitalised and commodified capitalism promotes fake souls. Religion, genuine compassion and love is replaced by the ‘incapacity to think’. If our soul does not resemble Jesus’ inner richness, it is only a matter of time that the ‘banality of evil’ will feast. When people suffer that they cannot express their pain, have no language for asking for help, when their imagination dies.
These are real questions when the human person, its thinking and reactions are engineered and managed through technologies - like social media, mass communication, and artificial intelligence. Let us live and be nourished by Christ’s Light that our inner life never to be coloniesd by the world of the ‘media spectacle’ and a blind consumption.
Let us read proudly, and let us receive the words of today’s readings as a healing; as our sacred direction. ‘A pure heart create for me, O God.’ ‘Deep within us plant your Law, writing it on our hearts!’ Let us ‘learn to know the Lord’! Bring us to this repentance, Jesus!
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..