A look back in the history of the past three (3) decades seems to indicate an alarming regression from integration to isolation. Recall that, in the early 1990s, the world saw rapid advancements in the field of information and communication technology. As the internet gained wide spread dominance, new ways of doing business, particularly, in media & communications started to emerge i.e. email, internet telephony, online music, digital newspapers, video streaming, social media, etc.. Indeed, this rapid pace of development in technology paved the way towards socio-economic integration, thereby ushering in the era of globalization.
As globalization expanded, cross border trade flourished. Hence, economic prosperity spread across the globe. With the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008, however, the world suffered major financial setbacks, which had rippling effects from east to west. Economic difficulties fanned the tailwinds of socio-political unrest, which gave rise to populist movements such as #Occupy Wall Street. Whilst such a movement was organized to thwart the ill-effects of the cultural milieu espousing: ‘GREED IS GOOD”, it had its unintended consequences of creating the divide between the haves and the have-nots, the capitalist and the man on the street. In essence, the GFC marked the beginning of regression from integration to isolation.
Selfishness: a Bane to Progress
Interestingly, back in 1938, the young Escriva wrote down in his diary Point no. 31, which somehow presaged the regression of world order from integration to isolation. Shown below is the excerpt from the classic book, The Way:
Selfish! You. . . always looking out for yourself. You seem unable to feel the brotherhood of Christ. In others you don’t see brothers; you see stepping stones.
I can foresee your complete failure. And when you are down, you’ll expect others to treat you with the charity you’re unwilling to show them.St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, 31
Sadly, the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of present-day society. One cannot fail to notice the institutionalized corruption within the bureaucracy of Government, more particularly, in the provision of medical & health care services. Moreover, self-interest and xenophobia have taken center stage, thereby, causing the breakdown of cooperation & solidarity. Consequently, this has led to the sad plight of migrant refugees in Europe. Self-righteousness and injustice have fostered the rise in human & drug trafficking as well as ethnic cleansing in Asia. In short, greed and selfishness have exacerbated the breakdown in world peace & harmony.
“Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12)
Quoting from the words of the Prophet Joel in sacred scriptures, Pope Francis, in his Ash Wednesday homily, exhorted all to reconsider “the path we are taking, to find the route that leads us home and to rediscover our profound relationship with God, on whom everything depends. This is the core of Lent: asking where our hearts are directed.” It was his way of admonishing all to rid the self “from the clutches of consumerism and the snares of selfishness, from always wanting more, from never being satisfied, and from a heart closed to the needs of the poor.”1
To avert the seeming regression from integration to isolation, the Holy Pontiff invites everyone to reflect on the return journeys revealed in Holy Scriptures, as follows:
- Just like the prodigal son, we need to return to the Father. We do this by repentance of sins and seeking forgiveness through the sacrament of Confession. “It is the Father’s forgiveness that always sets us back on our feet.”2
- Following the leper, who was cured by Jesus, we too return to Jesus to present our wounds and give him thanks saying: “Jesus, I am in your presence, with my sin, with my sorrows. You are the physician. You can set me free. Heal my heart.”3
- Just as the Holy Spirit breathed upon dust the spirit of life, so too we return to the Holy Spirit, the “Giver of Life, to the Fire who teaches us how to love”.4
As may be gleaned from the three (3) suggestions, the beginning of the return journey to God is hinged upon the recognition of one’s sinfulness and the humble acceptance that God is in control and not the self.
Fraternity: a Boon to Integration from Isolation
With the hope of arresting the regression from integration to isolation, Pope Francis, in his encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti, extolled the need to foster fraternity between all men and women. He asserted: “No one can face life in isolation… We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all”.5
Moreover, the Holy Pontiff emphasized that: “Unless we recover the shared passion to create a community of belonging and solidarity worthy of our time, our energy and our resources, the global illusion that misled us will collapse and leave many in the grip of anguish and emptiness. Nor should we naively refuse to recognize that ‘obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction. The notion of ‘every man for himself’ will rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all that would prove worse than any pandemic.”6
Learning from the Good Samaritan
Finally, it is worth pondering on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, wherein we see the genuine gesture of love and compassion displayed by this total stranger, a foreigner, in fact, hated by the Jews.
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”Lk 10:25-37
For “love shatters the chains that keep us isolated and separate; in their place, it builds bridges. Love enables us to create one great family, where all of us can feel at home… Love exudes compassion and dignity”.7
1 Pope Francis, Ash Wednesday Homily 2019
2 Pope Francis, Ash Wednesday Homily 2021
5 Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti, # 8
6 Ibid, #36
7 Ibid, #62