Preparing for tomorrow

Dear Friends,

with this first Newsletter we try to maintain a bond of friendship during these times when we do not see each other or when we are unable to do so. I take this opportunity to reach out to you with some reflections. 

For some weeks now, we are forced into a cloister, due to government regulations aimed at responding to the Covid-19 epidemic. In addition to the temporary loss of so many personal freedoms, there is also a great loss of personal relationships, which can only be superficially replaced by a virtual one, with the help of social networks. This has also affected the possibility of attending Holy Mass, as well as the reception of Holy Communion and the other sacraments. 

We observe the circulation of banal slogans, including, in Italy, the overused "everything will be fine" (“andrà tutto bene”), accompanied by unconvincing rainbows. Such expressions are not only trivial; but also annoying for those who have lost a loved one as a result of this pandemic; for those who have lost their jobs; or for those who will be unable to protect their loved ones owing to the difficult economic situation. In addition, they are not at all consolatory, especially for those who sacrifice themselves on the front line of service (doctors, nurses, emergency services, priests...). We can only imagine the great social problems that we will have to face. Everything is not fine; nor is it going to be all right. Let us prepare ourselves to discover creative and technical answers, adapted to reality and to cultivate these places, even the inner ones, where this will be possible.  

We are in a time of trial, sometimes a surreal one, with grandchildren who cannot embrace their grandparents for fear of not being messengers of evil. Where to love means keeping a distance. A surreal time with a Parliament that no longer meets as it should do and the Palace of Power that seems to be running in circles. Therefore, there is more than ever, a need for those who really know how to think of everyone, ready to sacrifice themselves for the common good (without making yet another banal slogan, constantly yelled out, as much as it is disregarded). 

We are in a time of trial with churches emptied of its faithful, effecting passage transition from a Catholicism that has always boasted of its being for the community and for the people, to a streaming or deferred Catholicism, which I can choose to watch at the most convenient time (though not necessarily with chips and popcorn). The outcome will be twofold: we will have baptized even more individualists; and we will have baptized those anxious to relive the experience of journeying together. However, there will be a further evolution of Catholicism, which will also touch on the consideration of the sacraments (hoping for the beginning of a significant sacramental theology) and the ways of being together.  

During this time we have not had a shortage of prolonged moments of disorientation and confusion. Certainly, these days are making us face up to the experience of essentiality, spoliation and precariousness. We're vulnerable. Simply put. And fragile, without fathers to support us. Our societas - beyond all possible adjectives - does not have fathers, strong leaders, solid people, to guide and interpret wisely. At this point, the words of the bible appear strikingly veritable: "cursed is the one who trusts in man... blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord". Contextually: 

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,

    who draws strength from mere flesh

    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.

6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;

    they will not see prosperity when it comes.

They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,

    in a salt land where no one lives.

7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,

    whose confidence is in him.

8 They will be like a tree planted by the water

    that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes;

    its leaves are always green.

It has no worries in a year of drought

    and never fails to bear fruit.”

(Jeremiah 17,5-8) 

This is man. He needs to put his trust in something/somebody greater than himself. He cannot do without it. He simply has to figure out to whom to turn, so he does not delude himself. The experience of the believing man is to be sure to trust in God. We walk with other men, we collaborate, we trust one another (ready even for delusions); but only in God is there the fullness of trust that never deceives. It is only from God that a community is soundly rebuilt, accepting the fallibility of others and providing protection for the benefit of all, without ideologies, opportunism and mortifications. Faith or, according to a social language - religion, is once again conceived in its role as the window of international order and peace, since it is able to create strong bonds, bridges between men. Despite some Western narratives, we are in the time of religion, of the de-secularization of society (even in Italy, televised prayers in recent weeks have reached a remarkable 13% in the ratings), so much so, that some scholars speak of the 21st century as the "century of God". This is why, for years, many have been trying to condition religious paths, on an international level, with a view to bending religion towards partisan political agendas. Religious cultures, in fact, are not at all outdated. They nourish and condition individual and collective behaviors and are, therefore, decisive for the diffusion (or not) of moral, juridical, social and political conceptions in a broad sense. The challenge of Catholicism is how to respond autonomously to this social and cultural evolution, catching up with a more enterprising evangelism, without equally being overwhelmed by the rubble of secularism.

The experience of the confinement of these weeks, in the face of the pain of others and their sufferings, in the face of our own limits, can be transformed into an extended time of retreat to get to our core.  It is a unique opportunity to make time for oneself, to read (studying aimed at knowing), to pray (meditating on the scriptures, rosary, liturgy of the hours, prayer of the heart... attending Holy Mass via live-streaming: prayer is a meeting with God, listening to God... prayer made with faith protects the world, not only does it transform it; but it preserves it from many evils), thinking (remaining faithful to reality), being critical (precisely a "sign of contradiction", Lc 2,34), to keep one's eyes, mind and heart fixed on what is essential and central: Christ, as the criteria of judgment. At the end of this time, we will mourn the dead and make new choices. The country and the Church will need structured people (that is to say, complete people, integral from all points of view) to restart the different societas on solid foundations and perspectives, that is, ones which are considered, meditated, prayed upon and shared with others. What is needed is a grassroots movement capable of germinating different environments for the good. Beyond empty rhetoric. Beyond the acquired positions of power.

Let us prepare ourselves to identify paths of good. Even after the black plague of the fourteenth century (the one described by Boccaccio in the Decameron, and which also arrived from China, leading to the death of a third of Europeans and 65% of Chinese people) we restarted with strength and determination. For example, medicine was renewed. But that is not all. There were several social renewals, such as the opening of worlds that had previously been closed (corporations had to open up to new arrivals, new artisans and professionals), with a mobility that, until then, had been unimaginable. Those deaths led to a reaction among the living: a greater mechanization as a result of fewer employees, higher salaries due to fewer workers, new techniques for weapons and for the dissemination of written texts. There was a general increase in well-being. After the various plagues of the seventeenth century (such as that of Alessandro Manzoni’s "The Betrothed") and the early eighteenth century, there was an equal a reaction in terms of culture (Enlightenment) and technique (industrial revolution). Reactions were also sometimes rather naive, as they were dazzled by the insubstantial faith in progress, typical of a society with weak roots. Trust that is unmasked each time it is confronted with history and the harshness of the human heart (for example, the early twentieth century’s technique was utilized to kill with bigger and better effect at the time of the First World War: the curtain fell on the belle époque). 

As far as we understand today, there will not be the massacre of the past. It is not known whether new jobs will be created. Probably not, because the prospect for years has been that of reduction. Surely new ways of working will be examined (smart working more focused on the objectives; but not only ... even in the wake of what already exists today: Google in Japan has successfully rolled-out the company's 4-day working week).  This time will help enterprising people to propose new paths, to join forces, to design and plan together social, economic, financial and political systems appropriate to reality, to identify spiritual responses that are not like marshmallows: soft and sugary outside; while empty on the inside. And who knows what progress lies in stock for technique. Planning the future, but carrying the deaths, the sufferings, without trivializing, without even falling into the naive optimism of progress that looks ahead without taking on board what precedes it. Having at its center the plan of God, who takes charge of every man, including the weak. This will be the modality, as well as the horizon of the contribution of believers, who must be able to decline it according to different sciences and competences. Without single individuals, without superheroes, without transgressions, having a clear measure of progress that is given by the weak. The perspective for overcoming the crisis will be to give the right value to relationships with others, to friendship, to working together. Overcoming the loneliness that we see today: an interconnected world (though not so much for the elders); nonetheless, not in relation with one another, a world of loneliness, a danger for liberal democracies and their evolutions. 

Your disciplined study, your critical viewpoint, your humility and joy of being a community, your personal and communal prayer, your sacrifices, your renunciations, your desires for good and your seeking to build, are blessed by the Lord, so that you may bear fruit. You can and must be a blessing, anticipating the future in your plans for good. I leave you with a reference from our beloved Saint John Henry Newman: "When a multitude of young men, keen-minded, open-hearted, sympathetic, and observant, as young men are, come together and freely mix with each other, they are sure to learn one from another, even if there be no one to teach them; the conversation of all is a series of lectures to each".  I also await to receive this lesson. 

A blessing to each and every one of you,

don Roberto