Talking about God in the time of Francis
+ Fernando Chomali Garib
Archbishop of the Ssma. Concepción
Concepción, Chile – November 2016
1. Society wants to remove God from the public spotlight
In these times, to speak of God does not come easy; it is challenging and, above all, fascinating. For some time, society has been removing God from the public spotlight. We perceive this so clearly, across the broader fields of our social, educational and cultural lives. Society has also tried to remove God from men’s hearts by postulating that faith is a departure from our personal and social lives, and that it represents an alienation that oppresses and removes freedom. An anthropocentric view of man has supported this attempt, with its ultimate goal of well-being at any cost, and with its emphasis placed on the self-fulfillment that becomes the absolute foundation and purpose of life. Man does not achieve this self-fulfillment outside of himself or in another. Rather, he finds it in his own subjectivity that acquires normative value. The Creator God, the only God and foundation of all that is good, has been supplanted by wants and personal desire. This true cultural misunderstanding led to the impoverishment of philosophical thought and to the ignorance of others as part of our lives, diminishing the rational and social dimension of man.
2. The Eradication of Metaphysical Thinking
The question of the essence of things, in truth, independent of the study of the subject, is for many, a thing of the past. As a result, ethics has lost space in the cultural landscape and is limited to the idea that acts have value insofar as they are the result of autonomy, that they do not harm another and that they recall utility as a reference and maximum value to be achieved. Perhaps this is the reason why society seeks to make philosophy and theology classes disappear from the educational and cultural horizon. In this context, devoid of gnoseology and binding ethics, beauty has been losing all meaning and the results of this are clearly seen. Society in its most varied aspects has been impoverished, in a clear process of the ‘peasantification’ of human dignity and of culture. The hero, the saint, the altruistic man who looks to the heavens and acts, even to the point of giving his own life, is becoming extinct, and, at best, is considered someone worthy to applaud, but not to imitate. The man determined to build a society by taking God out of the personal and social spectrum ended up destroying himself. This is the thesis of the Second Vatican Council, which all Pontiffs have insistently made clear.
Certainly the words of Paul VI in Populorum Progressio echo: “Man can set about organizing terrestrial realities without God. But "closed off from God, they will end up being directed against man. A humanism closed off from other realities becomes inhuman."
The thousands of immigrants who die, drowning in the sea, in the sight and patience of those who have the power to prevent this, the thousands and thousands of old lonely people, abandoned and poor, that no one is willing to take charge of, who moan for a little love and are offered death as an alternative to that pain of the soul, as well as the millions of children who do not see the light of day because they simply constitute a threat, give account to this truly decadent scenario that we see daily and that challenges us. Not to mention the large gaps that exist between the few that have more each day, and the many that have less and that remain at the mercy of others at every level. The social disenchantment we see day to day is the response to this logic of indifference and self-absorption.
3. If there is no God, only self-referentiality is left.
This attempt to disembark God from culture began by denying the value of the religious condition of man as a properly human and social experience. At most, its value is recognized in the personal sphere, but not as a reality that can be converted into culture. When the human being loses any objective reference that guides him beyond the vicissitudes of time and space, the path is cleared and paved to begin to build the self-referent man who creates himself from his own convictions. Thus, the condition of being social, of being sexed as a man or woman, of being a being that is understood in the light of all the others, are mere remnants that, according to them, were culturally imposed, but do not necessarily conform to the reality (which is no longer given) that they feel called to impose as such. In this cultural context, the parliaments of the West ended up being mere notaries of the infinite anthropologies and ethics that swarm everywhere. If anyone postulates the existence of a reality before it is perceived by someone who understands it, this is treated harshly. With this society lost. The weakest lost most of all. The strongest won. There is the paradox. Liberty misunderstood transformed, for many, into the worst of slaveries. It is the logical consequence of a freedom that an ultimate truth is not recognized, and less so a good that reaches beyond an individual.
This panorama was a cultivating field of caudillismos in every sphere of society and of a great discontent. Even God himself, each man draws in his own way. The important thing is that it is meaningful to me "my" meaning of what it means to be a human being. The absence of a final reference upon whom to base existence and coexistence has led to social segregation and violence as the method to resolve conflicts. Bad treatment whose worst form is directed towards women, children, immigrants, indigenous peoples, and so many other communities, account for this attempt to deny all objective truth and values that cannot be negotiated because they are in front of the same man and State. Without a metaphysical or transcendent foundation that is worthy for all and that is, above all, the final say of the interpretation of reality, truth is diluted, reason yields to violence and justice ends in revenge. Is not that the scenario that we see every day and that has acquired a true pornographic character?
4. Self-reference is built from consumption
The society that is based on the self-referential individual has caused society, at its practical core, to revolve around consumption, which is its engine, and has made the economic indexes the index to measure the development of the country. Development is understood only as economic development and personal growth is intimately linked to individual well-being. The inequality that this method of social organization brings is very silenced. The words of Paul VI in Populorum Progressio strongly echo: “We cannot allow economics to be separated from human realities, nor development from the civilization in which it takes place. What counts for us is man—each individual man, each human group, and humanity as a whole.” Thus it is impossible to achieve social coherence because the other person is no longer part of the common project, and becomes one more in the competition, which, obviously, must be overcome. Many believe that the important thing is to arrive first, but, from our condition as brothers and members of humanity, we believe that it is better to arrive together. This competition, in practice, begins in the womb when discarding human beings who come with malformations, are the result of rape or other causes.
They, according to this way of conceiving reality, are not part of this social structure where the center is not the person, but instead is what that person can achieve for himself, or what society can bestow on him. This is understood as the lack of proportion between the requirement of rights and the fulfillment of duties. Notable in this regard is the teaching of Benedict XVI regarding the deeper meaning of solidarity as a form of knowledge and expression of being a gift called to become a gift for others.
The key to understanding human relationships today lies in utilitarianism. This doctrine has done great damage; it has left many people, especially the poor and elderly, the immigrants and the disabled, in the most absolute defenselessness. The reality of children who, for different reasons, do not live with their families, but in the homes of abandoned and lonely old people, refugees abandoned to their fate, these children live this reality.
5. Clear and unambiguous Christian testimony
Francis, the Pope, is clear about this reality. That is why he has invited us with insistence and without ambiguity to return to the foundation of the contribution made by the Catholic Church to generate a more just, fraternal and dignified society for man, every man and all men. That foundation is not power; it is not money; it is God and, specifically, His mercy shown in a unique and definitive way in Jesus Christ. The Pope seeks to return the eyes of all members of society to those who are excluded and discarded in a system for the exchange of goods and services that has not put man at the center of our social organizations. He does so from the prism of Jesus. From his gaze, the pains and anguishes of so many human beings are the consequence of a system not based on man and his constitutively spiritual nature, but on greed and ambition beyond measure that is fixed in power and money. The invitation from Francis to exchange the consumption lifestyle for one of sharing is concrete and real and those who are called in the first place to accept this call are those who profess that God became flesh in Jesus, the Christ, present, paradoxically, in the suffering. For the pope, Christian witness lived with coherence and courage has to become the theological place from which we are being called to show the world another face.
This implies a deep questioning of our behavior, especially of all who recognize that Jesus is Lord. Thus, together with the denunciation, which is certainly necessary, a horizon is opened, of the construction of the broader social framework, linked to love given, to tenderness squandered, to joy that infects, to Christian witness. This is not a key to interpreting the apostolic exhortations "The Joy of the Gospel" and "The Joy of Love". Perhaps it is not there, in the Gospel and in love; where is the mustard seed that will generate the much-longed-for civilization of love? Said in the words of John Paul II: “A civilization of love must be the true point of arrival for human history.” (Juan Pablo II, 3.11.1991) Thus, Francis is clearly inviting us to take a clearer stand on our own way of life, for it is in this concrete and real practice that we will be the light that enlightens others. The Pope is asking us over and over again that our actions speak for themselves. Gestures are the most precious way to show not only that God is the foundation of our life, but also the guiding principle from which we can mend the social fabric. He has clearly begun. It is now up to each one of us to act. And with joy, hope, faith and much charity.