Writing these lines when the news media is filled with deep concern over the threatened terrorists attacks against the Winter Olympics slated to begin in a few days, when barrel bombs devastate the lives of the Syrian people, when the overdose death of a famous actor serves as a stark reminder of the plague of addiction, these words from the just released Lenten Message of Pope Francis are particularly timely: …moral destitution…consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members…..is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! …..causes….invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject His love. If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us through Christ, because we believe we can make it on our own, we are headed for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us.
Margaret MacMillian has written a powerful book: THE WAR THAT ENDED THE PEACE, which should be required reading for all politicians, civil servants, media people and, frankly clergy of all religions, for in this work she outlines in detail how the First World War came to engulf us, noting in the introduction that this happened because:….There are many possible explanations; indeed, so many that it is difficult to choose among them…..arms race, rigid military plans, economic rivalry, trade wars…alliance systems….nationalism with its unsavory riders of hatred and contempt for others; fears, of loss or revolution, of terrorists and anarchists; hopes, for change of a better world………….clashes between believers and the anti-clericals…
Papal teachings, such as Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, are rooted in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the writings of the saints, previous popes, and church councils and seek to address the reality of the times in which we live.
No wonder, given that so intensely does the shadow of the two world wars, the second rooted in the darkness and unfinished business of the first, loom over us still, that the explosions of resentment and changes by peoples hobbled under imperialism, the need for a secure Jewish homeland-state turned the late forties and much of subsequent decades in the latter part of the twentieth century into such a period of violence and upheaval – indeed we went from the communist revolution of the First War period in Russia to Russia being part of the Allied effort against the Axis powers, to Russia being enemy in the cold war, to the collapse of the Soviet Empire and all this while the moral and spiritual destitution of the sixties took root and spreads still, AIDS became an ongoing plague, and in the internet age people drown in oceans of information, tweeting the banal, but failing to communicate, truly, person to person, face to face.
Again the weight of all this has us living in an angry, lonely, desolate, confused, frightened world, a world as Ben Carson warns headed to a global holocaust and a world which, [world being of course shorthand for the human family], Pope Francis is trying to invite to step back from the abyss of darkness and death and turn towards the radiant light of Christ, He who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. [Jn.14.6]
Throughout these essays a number in brackets will refer to the paragraphs in THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL, the English title of the Apostolic Exhortation, from which quotations are taken, thus : The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus………….whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that He is already here, waiting for us with open arms.
That reminds me of Jesus’ own words when He assures us that: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him, and he with Me. [Rv.3.20]
This is truly amazing in that we have a Beloved, a Saviour, a Comforter who so respects our freedom, even when He clearly knows we are huddled, trembling, deep inside ourselves behind the door of shadow-darkness, He will not force Himself within, rather He beckons, He seeks to be invited and if invited will share with us, permeate us with His healing communion of love.
Pope Francis notes  that: In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history….we are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.
The comforting thing about God’s power is it is never anonymous but is personal, indeed is most fully expressed in a person: Jesus Christ.
Teenagers especially know the anonymous power of hatred, exposure, bullying which can hurt them cruelly through abusive use of the internet.
Governments increasingly use the power of modern technologies to not only spy on potential enemies, identify potential threats to the security of the homeland, but, along with search engines, chat rooms etc., scoop up enormous amounts of information on each of us, while cyber warfare is no longer the anonymous power of nation states but is in fact what hackers of credit cards, bank accounts war against individual persons.
No surprise then that in his effort to proclaim the Gospel that we might pull back from the brink, Pope Francis stresses  Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples is reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poor peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode.
Again look at the situation in the old empires of Europe and by extension what they imposed across the globe, the situation in Germany between the wars, the impact of the great depression – note too that just as alcohol and other addictions flourished in those periods, greater enriching criminals and further impoverishing the vulnerable, so in our day the narrow minded focus on security in the way it is being done, rather than taking a clear eyed objective look at the root causes of anger, hatred, despair, leaves us in a world where, since power attracts power, the powerful are, symbolically speaking, building higher castle walls and digging deeper moats – 9/11 and individuals walking into a Russian train station show us no wall is too high to be brought down, no moat too deep to be got over.
If as a society we were to insist a dollar for dollar rate, that is every dollar spent on security must see a matching dollar spent on social justice needs at home and another dollar on such needs in poor countries, little by little we would chip away at the roots of terrorism, hatred and our own fears.
This is the revolution of tenderness, the revolution of the Gospel of Love and Life.
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