TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: we all need each other, none of us is an island

We seem to have moved from summer to winter in the past week. Many of us are unprepared for this sudden change of season, which can be a metaphor for life.

We can be cruising along thinking all is well, and then something causes us to pause and to realise that much of our life is beyond our control.
During the week Pope Francis spoke via a video link at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference. This annual conference began in 1984 and this year it was held in Vancouver, with the title, “The Future You”. It is an ‘Ideas’ conference, encapsulating ideas worth spreading. Pope Francis was a speaker during Session 4 – Health, Life, Love. It is accessible online or you can download his talk and that of others. The Pope received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his talk. The key focus of what he had to say called for equality, solidarity, hope and tenderness to prevail.

I share some of Pope Francis’ words with you:

“The Future You” – the future is made of yous, it is made of encounters, because life flows through our relations with others…. Each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.

He reminded those gathered:

That we all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent “I,” separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone. We don’t think about it often, but everything is connected, and we need to restore our connections to a healthy state.

Happiness can only be discovered as a gift of harmony between the whole and each single component. Even science points to an understanding of reality as a place where every element connects and interacts with everything else.

In contemplating his words, I recalled the 60 people who gathered at Mayfield on Thursday for a ‘Muslim’ morning tea. In the room there were Christians from many variants, Jewish people and representatives from the Muslim community. What those of us who gathered, to share food and conversation, had in common was our humanity, our desire to stand together as people of faith and hope. The conversations flowed easily as we stood in solidarity with each other. We were a living witness, in our small part of the world, to the Pope’s shared words of wisdom.

So that brings me to Pope Francis’ second message:

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 if solidarity…. became instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries. Only in educating people to a true solidarity will we be able to overcome the “culture of waste” which is inclusive of food, goods and people…… When one realises that life, even in the middle of so many contradictions, is a gift, that love is the source and the meaning of life, how can they withhold their urge to do good to another fellow being?

In order to do good, we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity. And I know that TED gathers many creative minds……. The other has a face. The “you” is always a real presence, a person to take care of.

Pope Francis then goes on to explore with the audience the story of the Good Samaritan. He finishes this section by saying:

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….. 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.

The rest of his talk on hope and tenderness I will share with you because of its depth. Before doing so, I would also like to share with you some words I read this weekend in the Herald’s Weekender. It was a story about a young girl with a rare disability and a geneticist who is working to try and solve some of the many undiagnosed disabilities with which people live. The following was written towards the end of the article:

Dr Dudding-Blyth says searching for a genetic diagnosis for intellectual disability is all about hope.

It is hope that motivates parents of children with intellectual disability to continue searching for a diagnosis. Hope for an answer; hope for a treatment; hope that they are not to blame; hope that they are not alone; hope that they can have another child; hope that their grief will lessen; hope that they can make a difference. 

And now to Pope Francis’ words at the end of his TED talk:

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 flavour 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.

The third message I would like to share today is, indeed, about revolution: the revolution of tenderness. And what is tenderness? It is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future. To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.

Tenderness is the language of the young children, of those who need the other. A child’s love for mum and dad grows through their touch, their gaze, their voice, their tenderness. I like when I hear parents talk to their babies, adapting to the little child, sharing the same level of communication. This is tenderness: being on the same level as the other. God himself descended into Jesus to be on our level. This is the same path the Good Samaritan took. This is the path that Jesus himself took. He lowered himself, he lived his entire human existence practicing the real, concrete language of love.

Yes, 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 fulfil 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. Thank you.

I hope you found the words of Pope Francis as powerful and formative as I did. The complexity of our world is to be held in solidarity with love, compassion, hope and tenderness. It is not necessarily the ‘what’ but the ‘how’ which will guide us to the future.

Jesus walked with his disciples after his death and resurrection, listening to them and sharing their common story. This is our commission - to journey with the other so that together we can become fully human and alive.

Have a good week.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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