The Brazilian Indians who carried Father José de Anchieta’s chests, tired of everything, sighed: “We are heartless!”

I was touched by this expression when reading the conclusions of a Congress that was held some time ago in the Mexican city of Puebla, on an exciting and very unusual subject. Interiority and Crisis of the Human Future was the title of a series of wise interventions aimed at analysing the evils afflicting modern society. Perhaps they come not so much from the perversity of our external world,” the conference participants concluded, “as from our own inner emptiness. Before condemning what is going on around us, we should look within ourselves.

Certainly, there are many things wrong with planet Earth: with the material means to satisfy all human needs, a large part of the world’s population is starving, suffering war, disease, illiteracy and neglect. Discovering the root causes of this situation, of this dangerous crisis of humanity, does not seem to be an easy task. According to the Puebla congress participants, the lack of answers to the challenges of our time is perhaps due, to a large extent, to a progressive neglect of the inner life, of that dimension of the person which, since antiquity, has been called “spirit”. No longer as opposed to the body, which is very much part of us, but as that dynamic principle to which we give the name of soul, spirit, breath, strength to make our existence human and divine. The opposite of discouragement, of discouragement, of that lack of vital energy that makes us “soulless”.

Nowadays everything projects us outwards. Sciences and techniques aim at practical, visible results, along the lines of production and consumption. What is not measurable, quantifiable, or does not have an immediate utilitarian purpose – what is spiritual, we would say – does not arouse interest. The mystery of personal life, and also that which envelops reality as a whole, is thrown into the box of the irrational and the useless.

For this decline of the inner life, however, we are all responsible, on a day-to-day basis. We accept, in fact, without much resistance a life spilled outwards, especially when living in a developed country.

Walking down the street, it is the deafening noise, the attention to cars, the avoidance of potholes, the caution not to bump into the forest of lampposts or road signs and advertisements. Two people walk side by side, but each chats on their mobile phones to another who is far away. When we get home, what awaits us? The mailbox full of useless paperwork, a pile of messages on the answering machine, the piles of e-mail. And then an endless bureaucracy to carry out any activity, simply to survive; the dazzle in front of the television, which empties more than it fills our soul; the relationships, not with relatives and neighbours, but with those who have administrative, economic, political, social power; the renunciation, finally, of the melodious, restorative silence, essential to listen to our deepest questions and our noblest aspirations.

Tagore’s complaint was justified: “They sting us with the sting to run, but without knowing where…”.

And all this in a culture steeped in wise invitations, such as Socrates’: “Know thyself” or St Augustine’s: “Do not go out, remain in yourself, for in the inner room of each person dwells the truth”.

We agree that structures must be changed, that relations between human beings must be revolutionised. But without first changing hearts, no transformation of the world can resist. It is important to go to the roots, to cultivate the ecology of the inner life, to recover a way of life with ample space for reflection, prayer, contact with the Source, the Spirit, without which there is no vital force, no healthy dynamism, no new world.

Manuel Kant, the philosopher, filled pages proposing to convert the heart. But long before him, the prophet Ezekiel wanted more: a real heart transplant: to receive a heart of flesh and throw out the heart of stone, that which is building a violent and unjust society, a flock of soulless beings.


Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf

(PHOTO: Chris Thompson)


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