I am not Catholic: my Christianity is shaped by my Church of England upbringing, my experience of living with Calvinists in The States as a young exchange student, and my sense of socialist morality that I merged with my study of the teachings of Jesus after my university studies. Nevertheless, the Pope is one of the shining prophets of humanity in our dark times, and my admiration for him has been reinforced by this lecture, given to a TED conference in April.
In it, His Holiness expresses three beliefs: firstly, that we are an interdependent species: we need one another, and to be fully able to face the future, we must embrace one another with compassion, learning to rise above our sense of the illusory “I”, to embrace the truth of “us”.
Life flows through our relations with others…Life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.
A happy future, he says, is not an impossibility. If we can learn to overcome our fears and resentments, and identify with one another as parts of our wholeness, we can find harmony in human relations.
Secondly, Pope Francis says that technical and scientific development should serve human needs and human solidarity. Social work should not be a specialization, but at the heart of all that we do, whether it is inventing new technologies or widening our knowledge.
How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.
We need to rediscover the power of solidarity, and solidarity needs to come as “…a free response born from the heart of each and everyone.”
People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centered around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves “respectable,” of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road. Fortunately, there are also those who are creating a new world by taking care of the other, even out of their own pockets. Mother Teresa actually said: “One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense.”
We have so much to do, and we must do it together. But how can we do that with all the evil we breathe every day? Thank God, no system can nullify our desire to open up to the good, to compassion and to our capacity to react against evil, all of which stem from deep within our hearts. Now you might tell me, “Sure, these are beautiful words, but I am not the Good Samaritan, nor Mother Teresa of Calcutta.” On the contrary: we are precious, each and every one of us. Each and every one of us is irreplaceable in the eyes of God. Through the darkness of today’s conflicts, each and every one of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around.
To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow. Hope is the door that opens onto the future. Hope is a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree. It is like some invisible yeast that allows the whole dough to grow, that brings flavor to all aspects of life. And it can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another “you,” and another “you,” and it turns into an “us.” And so, does hope begin when we have an “us?” No. Hope began with one “you.” When there is an “us,” there begins a revolution.
His Holiness’ third theme is the necessity of a revolution of tenderness. This cannot be a merely systemic revolution, although politics and invention can be practiced in such a way as to make it more likely that we can achieve it. Rather:
…tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility. Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: “Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.” You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.
The future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.” We all need each other. And so, please, think of me as well with tenderness, so that I can fulfill the task I have been given for the good of the other, of each and every one, of all of you, of all of us.
In my Twitter feed this morning, laden with political sniping, I saw this message, from a young man who writes music.
As a result, I had been thinking about hope when I came across His Holiness’ TED talk, later in the morning. It seemed to be directed at my current experience, at my passion for the election we are engaged in in this country, and my admiration for Jeremy Corbyn’s courage, fortitude and humility. It made me think back to some of the anger I have felt in the campaign, and the way my experience of hope is too dependent upon circumstances and not on faith. I have met so many people over the last twenty days, and I have been so focused upon convincing them of my way of thinking, I have sometimes forgotten to take joy in their being, in their individual uniqueness and beauty. Whatever happens over the next week or so, let’s carry Pope Francis’ model of consideration, solidarity and revolutionary tenderness in everything we do.