Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
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!
Some parts of our human family, it appears, can be readily sacrificed for the sake of others considered worthy of a carefree existence. Ultimately, “persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ – like the unborn, or ‘no longer needed’ – like the elderly. We have grown indifferent to all kinds of wastefulness, starting with the waste of food, which is deplorable in the extreme”.
A decline in the birthrate, which leads to the aging of the population, together with the relegation of the elderly to a sad and lonely existence, is a subtle way of stating that it is all about us, that our individual concerns are the only thing that matters. In this way, “what is thrown away are not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves”. We have seen what happened with the elderly in certain places in our world as a result of the coronavirus. They did not have to die that way. Yet something similar had long been occurring during heat waves and in other situations: older people found themselves cruelly abandoned. We fail to realize that, by isolating the elderly and leaving them in the care of others without the closeness and concern of family members, we disfigure and impoverish the family itself. We also end up depriving young people of a necessary connection to their roots and a wisdom that the young cannot achieve on their own.
(From Pope Francis' Encyclical Letter on Fraternity and Social Friendship, Fratelli Tutti, art.18-19)
LACKING A PLAN FOR EVERYONE 2
To care for the world in which we live means to care for ourselves. Yet we need to think of ourselves more and more as a single family dwelling in a common home. Such care does not interest those economic powers that demand quick profits. Often the voices raised in defence of the environment are silenced or ridiculed, using apparently reasonable arguments that are merely a screen for special interests. In this shallow, short-sighted culture that we have created, bereft of a shared vision, it is foreseeable that, once certain resources have been depleted, the scene will be set for new wars, albeit under the guise of noble claims.
(From Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti, On Fraternity and Social Friendship, articles 17) /Illustration: Andy Goldsworthy’s Ice and Snow Ephemeral Sculptures
Learn/see more: https://aesthesiamag.wordpress.com/.../andy...//
Some might say that Pope Francis' is kind of not interested in recovering Europe's unique culture shaped by the Christian heritage and the Enlightenment's humanist heritage, at least it is not primary concern. May be, that's true, and explains his focus on the issues of the third world, and our global responsibility for the common good of all. Yet, the conscience which he gives voice is Europe's conscience, it is still the voice of the Christian Europe. We can be proud of our heritage, that it is the table of the Eucharist which is the table for the single human family which dwells in the same home!
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..