THE OXYGEN WE NEED
Margaret Somerville, Director of the McGill University Centre for Medicine, Ethics, and Law in Montréal
The questions raised by this flyer are an immense challenge, and there are no easy answers. I think that the "drop in desire" is equivalent to a loss of hope–that is, the certainty that what we are doing now will be important for the future as well. Hope is the oxygen of the human. Without it, we are dead.
Fr. Giussani observes, "when desire flattens out, the bewilderment of the young and the cynicism of the adults begins." It is true: I see it in my students, most of whom are relativistic and individualistic. For them, the predominant value is freedom of choice, absolute freedom and forceful rejection of authority, tradition, and religion. Many have absolutely no tolerance for suffering, and view it as the greatest evil. Consequently, everything that seems in their eyes to be a relief from suffering is gladly accepted (above all, if it responds to their first commandment, which is the right to choose–for example, with euthanasia, abortion, and artificial reproduction). That is, the end of suffering justifies any means. The point is that for those who have rejected God, pain has no value.
Truly, every move we make is born of a need for fulfillment. The problem is that people believe they can reach happiness directly: we have sold young people the idea that happiness can be acquired (consumerism) but this is not the case. Fortunately, I meet many who "document a different humanity in all the fields of society." They do surprising things: they help the least, their peers without prospects, the homeless. Perhaps we had to reach this situation of loss of desire, of awe, and of the Mystery, before the next generation could understand how grave it was, and thus begin to work to overturn it.
O'lga Sedakova, Russian poetess
Today, we are experiencing a "drop in desire," not so much in power, as in quality. It is as if we were demagnetized. Look, for example, at contemporary art. The only desire it expresses seems to be that of annihilating, defacing reality and its meaning. This is the shared element of performance art: what does it contain? Fear, perhaps? Rancor against the world? A sense of truth? It is as if we have come to the end of the line, and nothing has meaning anymore: we cannot fool ourselves that something lasts.
Is all this due to widespread affluence? I would not say so. There are numberless examples of people who have abandoned affluence to risk and set up great works. Rather, it depends on the loss of meaning. Today, mass culture proposes to us desires that humiliate our dignity, from success to comfort. Thus, the desire of the impossible is missing. But, without that, the possible becomes empty.
Today, we sense the loss of a common task, the end of a great era. Like the twilight of the Roman Empire, we see the profound emptiness of our civilization and the advent of new barbarians.
And yet I have met young people who do not abandon themselves to the absence of desires–for example, the Christian students I come across at the university. Truly, "Christ is able to reawaken the person." The Christian vocation moves the person, giving one a sense of wholeness. Because, if we sleep, we cannot wake ourselves by our own willpower: someone else is needed to wake us and give us life.
THE GAZE THAT MOVES
Geri Benoit, Haitian Ambassador to Italy
For several days now, I have been captivated by this sentence: "The forces that change history are the same as those that change man's heart." It means that in each of us, in every point in the world, the same force acts: God. He is the One who moves and motivates every living being. Our way of looking at God can change, but what does not change is His gaze upon us–He gives us beauty, strength, and courage.
For this reason, the people of Haiti have never given in, through centuries of slavery, poverty, and natural disasters. And now, after the earthquake, I see in everyone an ardent desire that pushes us toward progress, to move, to go forward, to rebuild the nation.
For us, it means never giving up. Fighting, seeking what one desires. Hardly "sated and desperate"! But even those who are rich and have food, clothes, and health, deep down, have something that pushes them to continue seeking: we are always hungry for something different.
So I do not think that today people have stopped seeking. Maybe they do not seek in the right way: we need to learn to appreciate our life. We cannot measure ourselves in terms of success, work, or the car we drive: what if the recession carries these things away? So this, then, is what one desires: that life be united, that there be no division in us. We have a lot of work to do on this.
TO BARTER WITH ETERNITY
Mother Maria Geltrude Arioli, Prioress of the Monastery of Saint Benedict, Milan
"Desire eternal life with ardent concupiscence of the spirit." Saint Benedict admits and even encourages "concupiscence" if the object is eternal life and the source is the Holy Spirit who works within us. "Eternal life" is not the future life: it is life now, the full, true life for which we are made.
The capacity to desire is the meaning of daily life, the power that gives the will to build, to be able to see and resolve your problems and those of others, of the individual and of society. We are made not for limited values, for merely material realities, but for the infinite and for the eternal, for God. If we barter the infinite for the infinite series of finite things, with satiety in material things, if we reject healthy toil, the beauty of sacrifice that enables us to have within a free and welcoming space to receive and to strive in the desire of the Absolute, the result is nausea, apathy, and the senselessness that arouses only cynicism and desperation and even perversion of nature in the search for new emotions.
Truly, this is the root of the evils of our time and of the lack of orientation, of meaning, of gusto in life, of awareness of the value and dignity of the person. Living on the edges of the world by your own free choice, to be able to nourish without distraction solely the desire for communion with Christ, means beginning already today to enjoy, even in the obscurity of the faith, that Face that we will see unveiled. One puts oneself at the edges of the world only to be more freely in the heart of God and in the heart of the Church, and thus in the heart of the world.
Photo by Matheus Silva from Pexels
THE OXYGEN WE NEED