(From Alphonsian Academy blog)
The dense shadows of our seriously Ill world
In his latest encyclical on fraternity and social friendship entitled Fratelli tutti, the Pope Francis writes that the reality in which we live, our present world is covered by dense shadows, which should not be ignored[i]. In this text I also found an answer to the question that has been nagging at me: is there still hope for “our gravely ill world”? [ii]
In the encyclical Fratelli tutti, the Pope names some of these “shadows of our modern world”. It is a list we know, but put together it offers impressive evidence of how sick the world really is. The shadows arise from:[iii]
– the anachronistic international conflicts that were thought to be over, but sadly rise again;
– the growing contempt for history, for all that is past, and the rejection of the spiritual and human wealth built up by previous generations;
– a vile game of disqualification, manipulation, marketing solutions in politics that should after all serve the development of all and the common good;
– human trafficking, trade in human organs and tissue, sexual exploitation of children and girls, slave labour;
– wars, attacks, persecution on racial or religious grounds;
– “shameless aggression” in digital communication. “Social aggression”, continues the Pope, “finds in mobile devices and computers an unparalleled space for dissemination”. Hence “verbal violence through the internet and the various areas or spaces of digital exchange”.
To these dense manifestations of darkness enveloping our world I would like to add, in line with the words of Pope Francis, the virus that is even more difficult to defeat than Covid-19. In fact, the pandemic has highlighted how vulnerable we all are by being interconnected.
The coronavirus is not the only disease to be fought. The current pandemic has brought to light several broader social pathologies. The most difficult virus to defeat – again according to Pope Francis – is radical individualism. “Individualism does not make us freer, more equal, more brothers. The mere sum of individual interests is not capable of generating a better world for all humanity” – says the Pope.[iv]
Sister Enrica Rosanna, a religious of the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, transfers this dimension to the world of consecrated life and admits: “The suffering of many religious communities lies in individualism”. She describes it as “the inability to perceive oneself, both in community and in one’s works, in harmony with others, whether sisters or brothers. There can be singularly excellent people in a community, but they operate apart from the whole. Living communities, touched by the action of the Spirit, are a ‘body’, diversified in function, but organically united by the bond of charity and mission”.[v]
The light of a stranger on the road
To indicate a light for all that we are going through in the midst of this “dense darkness that should not be underestimated”, in the encyclical Fratelli tutti, the Holy Father Francis evokes the well-known Lucan parable of the merciful Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-37). The Pope points to an unexpected source of light in the figure of “a stranger on the road”. It is precisely the Samaritan, the stranger and the excluded, who shines with healing light because he has “a sensitive heart” for the other and decides to “have time” for the other.
It is precisely this stranger, in his behaviour, who becomes a light for us, illuminating the darkness that surrounds us. We easily remember that in the parable there is a man who is attacked, injured, left lying on the roadside. Several people pass by him, but they all walk away, they do not stop. They are people with important functions in society. Yet they are unable to spare a few minutes to assist the injured man or at least to seek help.
But one did stop. One offered him sympathy. One of all healed him with his own hands. One of all paid for the injured man out of his own pocket and looked after him to the end.
Above all, that “Stranger” gave the needy man abandoned along the road something we so often lack in this hurried world: he knew how to give him his time. Certainly, he had his own plans to use that day according to his needs, commitments or desires. But he was able to put everything aside in front of the injured man and considered him worthy of receiving the gift of his time. “We have become accustomed to turning our eyes away, to passing by, to ignoring situations until they affect us directly,” comments the Pope. comments the Pope, and he is also talking about us, Christians![vi]
For the darkness of the world that hurts us, Pope Francis points us – precisely – to a light. With this illuminating Lucan parable, he suggests the choice we should make, the basic option we need to make in order to rebuild this world that is hurting us. Faced with so much pain, so many wounds that hurt us, the only way out is to be like the Good Samaritan.
Francis adds some strong words here: “Any other choice leads either to the side of the robbers or to that of those who pass by without having compassion for the pain of the wounded man on the road”. [vii] The word of Jesus is unequivocal here: this “lowering of one to take the other in one’s arms is a light, this sensitive heart that decides to have the time to help its neighbour is the light”. According to Francis, there are still people who do this and thus become ‘stars in the midst of the darkness”.[viii]
In his exhortation on holiness in the modern world Gaudete et exsultate Pope Francis had earlier admitted that often – for them “everyday” holiness – the people who live alongside us “are a reflection of God’s presence” . Certainly, each of us has stopped several times in sacred buildings to admire their stained glass in the windows. Stained glass only shows its full beauty when it is penetrated by an external light, by sunlight. I believe that the figures of the saints in the stained glass express well the essence of holiness. Holiness is like the figures on the stained glass windows: they shine, they delight, they radiate light not of their own, but of God’s light shining in them![ix]
(it will be continued)
Fr. Krzysztof Bieliński, C.Ss.R.
the original is in Italian
[i] Francesco, Fratelli tutti. Enciclica sulla fraternità e l’amicizia sociale, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 2020, n. 54.
[ii] Cf. Francesco, Momento straordinario di preghiera in tempo di pandemia, Sagrato della Basilica di San Pietro Venerdì, 27 marzo 2020, in http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/homilies/2020/documents/papa-francesco_20200327_omelia-epidemia.html [accesso 24.01.2021]
[iii] Cf. Francesco, Fratelli tutti, nn. 11-44.
[iv] Francesco, Fratelli tutti, n. 105.
[v] E. Rosanna,“Eucaristia: Scuola di relazione e di testimonianza. Risonanze per la vita religiosa”, in http://www.diocesiportosantarufina.it/dfiles/fedit/24_03_2012%20usmi_a(1).pdf [accesso 24.01.2021].
[vi] Francesco, Fratelli tutti, 64.
[vii] Francesco, Fratelli tutti, n. 67.
[viii] Francesco, Fratelli tutti, n. 222.
[ix] Francesco, Gaudete et exsultate, Esortazione apostolica sulla chiamata alla santità nel mondo contemporaneo (19.03.2018), in AAS110 (2018), n. 7.