Reborn under the sign of authenticity: life, custody, closeness

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(from Alphonsian Academy blog)

February was a month marked by events that shook the moral theologian’s reflection and heart. “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, that he might cultivate him and keep him” (Gen 2:15). The CEI draws inspiration from this quotation from the first book of the Bible to draw up the message for the 44th Day for the Vita: “Guarding every life“. Pope Francis, on the other hand, draws inspiration from the Lucanian exhortation: [1]“Be merciful, as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36) to draw up the message on the occasion of the XXX day of the sick and exhort us to place ourselves next to those who suffer on a journey of charity. While [2]“The power of care. Women, economy and trafficking in persons”, is the theme of the 8th World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Trafficking in Persons, which is celebrated on 8 February, the liturgical memorial of Saint Josephine Bakhita.

Entrusted to the custody of the man

These events make us reflect on the preciousness of every life, its fragility, the need to be in solidarity to face difficulties. In God’s original plan, both his fellow man and the rest of creation are entrusted to the custody of man. In the context of the pandemic emergency that we have been experiencing on a planetary level for two years now, reflecting on these events and the suggested themes brings to mind the words of an Italian scholar: “You will learn at your own expense that, in the long journey of life you will meet many masks and few faces”. The author is Luigi Pirandello in the novel: One, Nobody and a Hundred Thousand written almost a century ago. The pandemic has given a name to the thousand masks that humanity wears.

The alleged invincibility. 

The pandemic has burst into a world that tends to hedonism, in search of pleasure, which hides behind the so fan tutti, which links the value of human life to the possession of specific “requirements”: to be healthy, beautiful, strong, fashionable, productive for society, just to name a few. The enormous progress of biomedicine in recent years has opened to man horizons of hope and indisputable well-being, but illness, suffering and death remain for every man a reality, a profoundly human experience that is lived in the first person with its unrepeatable and irreproducible dramaturgy. A tiny virus has confronted us with this evidence. Before the world of science and politics realized what was happening, it lashed lives. As in all pandemics in history, which have been and probably still will be, it takes time before man can understand and act.

The privatization of suffering

Who has not wept to see the processions of corpses that were transported from one city to another? Who has not felt a sense of tearing heartbreak in losing their loved one or people without being able to accompany them? Yet, in recent years there has been a tendency to privatize suffering from illness and medicalize death. At one time, death was strongly socialized; family members and neighbors participated in it in the same way as births, baptisms or marriages. Today the sick and the dying are conceived as an “other who disturbs”. The man of today wants to be left alone with his pain, with his death. The death was closed in a hospital, even before the spread of Covid-19. The lengthening of the average life, the very rapid achievements of medicine, the increased individual and social well-being mean that people die more frequently in the hospital than at home. Perhaps this experience will not make us rediscover the need to accompany? To be there? To be with those who suffer?

We inhabit the global village… but do we know how to be brothers?

With a click we can connect with people who live on the other side of the world, but how many times can we not exchange words with those around us looking into our eyes? The repeated  lockdowns have locked us up in the home. Drama for those who already lived difficult situations, opportunities for those who have been able to rediscover the joy of being together, of cooking, watching a movie, reading a book, playing, together.

In his Address to the Roman Curia in December 2020, Pope Francis reiterated that the pandemic is a “scourge” that unites everyone, but it is also a test for humanity, it is an opportunity to convert and recover authenticity. From time to time, history offers stages of the epochal crisis that affect ideologies, politics, economics, technology, ecology, religion. But on this occasion, the Pontiff recalled the etymology of the term crisis from the Greek verb krino. The crisis is that sieving that cleans the grain of wheat after harvesting.[3]

Not the mask but the Truth

We are children of a God who wanted to assume not the mask, the appearance of humanity but human flesh. He lowered himself to the point of suffering the most painful consequences of this choice, dying on a cross to cry out to humanity all his love. St Alphonsus wrote: “It gnaws the cross, cries out every wound of Jesus, that he loves us with infinite love. […] Jesus Christ could well obtain our health without suffering and with a sweet and delicious life on earth; but not… He rejected riches, delights, earthly honours, and elected himself a poor life and a death full of sorrow and shame. And why? [… ] Because Jesus loved us very much”. The Risen Body of Jesus is not a mask, it bears the signs of the passion, suffering is clothed with glory, it is transfigured, but it remains imprinted in the body of the Lord. Bernhard Haring taught that the Cross is the event by which Jesus transforms the most horrible event of abused freedom into the Revelation of freedom and infinite love. In the Cross, Jesus does not throw away his body but gives himself through the body, so he redeems the flesh and the human body becomes the temple where man must adore.[4][5]

What does all this have to do with the page of history we are writing? Every event, however horrible it may be, is never the last word. It is the power of the Resurrection, a force without equal, Pope Francis reiterated: “Where it seems that everything is dead, the shoots of the resurrection return to appear on all sides. It is a force without equal. [… ] In a flattened field, life returns to appear, stubborn and invincible. There will be many bad things, yet the good always tends to return to blossom and spread. Every day in the world beauty is reborn, which resurrects transformed through the dramas of history. Values always tend to reappear in new forms, and in fact, the human being has been reborn many times from situations that seemed irreversible. This is the power of the Resurrection” (Evangelii Gaudium, n.  276). 

Among the teachings that Pirandello wanted to leave in the novel mentioned at the beginning is that the only way to live life is to be reborn at every moment. And such a rebirth can only be under the sign of authenticity. 

Prof.. Filomena Sacco

(Original is in Italian)


[1] https://www.chiesacattolica.it/custodire-ogni-vita/

[2] https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/messages/sick/documents/20211210_30-giornata-malato.html

[3] https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/speeches/2020/december/documents/papa-francesco_20201221_curia-romana.html

[4] Alfonso Maria de Liguori, Love of soulsin Ascetic Works, Vol. V, Collegio S. Alfonso, Rome 1934 c. II, n. 3, 27.

[5] B. Häring, Free and faithful in Christ, Free and faithful in Christ. Moral theology for priests and laity, Vol. I-III, Edizioni Paoline, Rome 1979-1981, vol. I, 147.

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