The working places are no longer the same, leisure activities are difficult if not impossible to practice, so many contacts are restricted. And the attempt to compensate for the lack of tangible human relations by a more intense online activity, does not make up for the emotional gap. On the contrary, it seems that this diminished form of human relationship that we experience online only increases the thirst for human presence, because virtual encounters never totally replace the experience of the physical presence of the other. For those who can’t even rely on that virtual social life given the lack of meaningful relationships in their lives, the consumption of information and entertainment online becomes a pitiful substitute for social life. In this context of isolation, loneliness and deprivation, the risk is great, among the most fragile, to develop an addiction or to suffer from mental illness.
If the pandemic has reminded us of one thing, it is how much we are relational beings. And if modern culture marked by individualism has long made us desire, cultivate and appreciate the value of autonomy, we are today able to measure the limits of personal independence as the ultimate ideal. Today's mass culture, which never ceases to proclaim the ideals of modern liberal philosophy and to promote them to us through the educational system, the Entertainment industries, and the Advertising agencies, is, in fact, focused on the affirmation of the self, the search for self, self-realization, the fulfillment of our dreams, etc.
In reality, the whole History of the Modern West can be read as a history of the emancipation of the individual from the group, be it the family, the nation or the Church. This ideal of emancipation is certainly a good one. Otherwise, it would not have appealed so much to the heart of man in the last centuries. Every human being is unique, and the sine qua non for the realization of each unique human destiny is to be able to freely use our strength, our intelligence, our wealth and our resources to accomplish what we feel called to do deep down. This inner impulse that leads us towards the full realization of our talents, the full realization of our dreams, sometimes comes up against external norms dictated by parental authority, social conformism, and the weight of old ecclesial traditions. And it is here that an internal law can appear as legitimately opposing external norms, to overturn them or at least reform them in the sense of a greater respect for the deepest aspirations of the human heart.
However, neither the parental rules, nor the culture of a country, nor the traditions of the Church can be reduced to something oppressive and freedom-killing. On the contrary, the environment offered to us by the family, the nation and the Church are, when properly taken care of and developed, the launching pad for the real growth and empowerment of the human person. The life of the group, while it has its own demands, and while it requires the individual to put himself at its service, and even to sacrifice himself for it in those tragic periods of history when it is threatened in its entirety, remains nonetheless the place of birth and growth of the human person.
Without family ties, without the specific culture of the nation, without the Tradition of the Church, the human person is incapable of structuring himself internally, nor of adopting viable social attitudes and behaviors. The group, be it family, nation, or Church, is the place where vital links are established between individuals and between generations, so that the treasure of humanity and holiness that we have received from our ancestors (and ultimately from God) can be effectively handed down by the elders and bear new fruits of wisdom and love in the youth. Then this youth becomes ready to assume its share of responsibility in the defense and development of the group. It is ready to take on the weight of the responsibilities once placed on the shoulders of their fathers and mothers.
From these few reflections, we can certainly retain this: that the group should not stifle the inner life and intimate aspirations of the individual. And that the aspirations of the individual must not unjustly jeopardize the cohesion of the group. How will this be done? The essential thing, I believe, is to ensure that the bonds that unite us, whether from near or far, as members of the same family, nation or Church, are bonds that both nourish the growth of the individual and strengthen the unity of the group. Ultimately, therefore, it all depends on the quality of the relationships we establish among us. And on our awareness that good relationships guarantee both the fulfillment of individuals and the continuity of the group. So let's learn how to cultivate good relationships, paying close attention to the people around us, but also to the social environment, considered globally, in which these people evolve.
We all know how difficult it is to maintain good relationships between members of the same family, nation, or church. The unity of a parish is also a constant challenge. It is here that, as Catholics, we need to have a renewed awareness of the immense importance of the mission of Jesus, who came to restore the broken bond between God and men and the bonds that unite people to one another in our common humanity.
Jesus is the way and the bond of unity. In his person, humanity and divinity are united in a mysterious but real way. That is why, in the deepest sense, he deserves the name Emmanuel. God with us (Mt 1, 23). Because In him, God is with us, human beings. And on this first reconciliation between God and man, all other reconciliations depend. And that is why the little child who will make Mary a mother, also deserves the name given to him by Isaiah: The Prince of Peace (Is 9, 6).
Blessed time of Advent to all.