It was after the news, prime time television, and a Portuguese actress threw this enormity in her boyfriend’s face, as if to say nothing: “It’s none of your business whether or not I’m with someone else. Did I sign an exclusive contract with you?
Such exclusive and perpetual contracts are also not signed by certain grooms who even get married in church. I find these weddings funny. The guest list, the choice of dresses, the photographer, the organist, the restaurant, they are prepared to the millimetre. Everything is elegant, everything is beautiful, everything is recorded in photos and video. Especially the moment when the bride and groom swear eternal love and exchange precious wedding rings. This is followed by a snowfall of petals or rice and a lot of honking. And finally, what often happens? It happens that they have barely begun to live together and already play the crests, like gallinaceous birds, if they don’t each go their own way. Promises of fidelity quickly dry up like basil.
The worst thing is that, in ceremonies of Religious Profession or Priestly Ordination, some scenes seem photocopied. Fewer photographs and more tears in the eyes, less champagne and more bubbles of fervour, but the same care with the “exteriors”, the same oaths of eternal fidelity. And often, after those crazy, fiery days, those New Masses, the usual basil.
Far be it from me to think that these rituals, for those involved, are nothing more than a beautiful and exciting moment. Nor am I pessimistic like that Frenchman who whined: “Faithful, woe is us, it’s only the name of a dog!” I refuse to admit that we live in a world of fireflies: of people who flicker on and off, who go no further than an intermittent fidelity.
Marias Goretti and Luises Gonzaga also flourish, young people capable of making and honouring exclusive contracts. Failed marriages do not manage to cover the forest of countless couples who remain united and ardent. If there are discredited priests and religious, the majority give a clear and coherent witness.
However, it is important to recognise that words often sound like empty gourds. Young men who, at the altar, speak wonders and, after a while, undo their marriage or their priesthood are nothing more than reeds shaken by the wind. Politicians who propagate the fruit of promises and deliver none are not worthy of credit. The Church itself, expert in solemn declarations about justice, peace and the poor, often forgets the language of attitudes, gestures and action.
According to Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, the contemporary world thirsts for true, authentic, martyr’s words. The words of people who take themselves seriously. Who respect themselves. And others. And God.
Because what is most impressive, in the cases mentioned, is the lack of a sense of the “sacred”, the absence of sensitivity towards God himself. In this secularised society, which trivialises everything, it seems that not even God is respected any more. There is no respect for people, who are witnesses, not of a serious act, as they thought, but of a joke.
Let us not throw stones, however. To a greater or lesser extent, all of us are tainted by the post-modern attitude that does not make or maintain long-term projects. Unable to look beyond the here and now, we let ourselves be carried away by the “I like this” and “I don’t like that” or “I like now” and “I don’t like now” that is the predominance of feelings over reason and will.
We live in the culture of the pleasant, the emotional, the sensory, the disposable, the ephemeral. Instead of affirming our agreement or disagreement with something, we simply say: “I like it”, “I don’t like it”. The reasons depend on the spirit of pleasure. An action is good or bad according to the choice made; choice of the gender ready to dress and ready to undress.
According to Amadeu Cencini, we live in the culture of the analgesic. We do not resist a headache and we easily bend under the cross of difficulties. The civilisation of consumption and comfort has the effect of a spiritual AIDS that devitalises us. We are left immunodeficient, without defences. So we seek to soften the harsh proposals of the Gospel, reducing them to a skimmed Christianity, without calories or beauty.
Young people are perhaps more sensitive, more vulnerable to this atmosphere. They live “in the flesh”, with all their wounds in the air and without the familiar and institutional skin that used to protect us all. Today we protect them from cold and heat, we cultivate them like bananas, but we do not know how to turn them from molluscs into vertebrates, that is, how to give them backbone and consistency, how to help them distinguish the wheat from the chaff, how to make them walk pure, strong and free.
There is a lack of people to lean on with strength. “Safe compasses” to guide those who want to “put out into the deep in foggy weather” – as John Paul II would say. People capable of immeasurable love. Proud of their exclusive contracts.
Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf
(PHOTO: Romain Dancre)