It was after the news, the prime time on TV, and a tart was throwing this enormity in her boyfriend’s face, as if it were the most natural thing in the world: “It’s none of your business whether I’m with someone else or not. Have I signed an exclusivity contract with you?
Exclusive contracts and forever, even some brides and grooms don’t sign them in front of the altar. These weddings make me laugh. The guest list, the choice of dresses, the photographer, the organist, the restaurant, everything is prepared down to the last 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. At the exit of the church, a shower of petals or a shower of rice, a lot of honking and a hard party.
And then, what happens so often? The fact is that they have barely begun to live together and already they play the crests, as in a cockfight, if they don’t each go their own way. The promises of fidelity dried up quickly like basil.
At priestly ordination ceremonies and new masses, some scenes seem photocopied. There are fewer photographs and more tears in the eyes, less champagne and more bubbles of fervour, but it is the same care for the “outside”, the same oaths of eternal fidelity. And often, after those crazy, fiery days, those bimbalanced 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 do I sign below the defeatist assertions of one writer, according to whom “Faithful” is now only the name of a dog; and the only word of honour that lasts a little while is that of the stammerers. I refuse to admit that we live in a world of fireflies: of people who flicker on and off, who go no further than intermittent faithfulness.
As the philosopher Gabriel Marcel said, “amour” (love) remains “toujours” (always). Failed marriages do not manage to cover the forest of countless couples who remain united and ardent. There are still many young people capable of making and honouring exclusivity contracts. And if some priests swim around discredited, most give a luminous and firm witness.
However, it is important to recognise that words often sound like empty gourds. The boys and girls who, at the altar, speak wonders and, after a while, undo their commitments are no more than reeds shaken by the wind. Politicians who spread the fruit of promises without pretending to keep them, deserve no credit. The Church itself, expert in solemn declarations about justice and the poor, often forgets the language of attitudes and deeds.
According to Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, the contemporary world thirsts for true, authentic, martyr-like words. Words of people who take themselves seriously. Who respect themselves. And others. And God.
Because the most impressive thing, in the cases referred to, is the lack of a sense of the “sacred”. In this 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.
But be careful, let us not throw stones. To a greater or lesser extent, we are all contaminated by the post-modern attitude that does not make long-term projects and does not carry them forward. Unable to look beyond the here and now, we let ourselves be carried away by this “I like this” and “I don’t like that” or “now I like it” and “now I don’t like it” that is the predominance of feelings over reason and will. It is a time of sales, of incomplete adventures and short stories.
We live in the culture of the pleasurable, 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 causes depend on the kilograms of pleasure.
Moreover, we live in the culture of the painkiller. 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 and leaves us without defences. We then seek to soften the harsh proposals of morality, reducing the Gospel to a skimmed Christianity, without calories or beauty.
Young people are perhaps more sensitive, more vulnerable to this atmosphere. They live in the open, with all their wounds naked and without the familiar and institutional skin that used to protect us. Today we protect them from the cold and the heat, we grow them like bananas, but we do not help them to have a critical sense and consistency, to distinguish the wheat from the chaff in order to walk through life, free, pure and brave.
There is a lack of people to lean on with strength. There is a lack of “sure compasses” in foggy weather. People capable of immeasurable love, of permanent brightness. Proud of their exclusive contracts.
Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf
(PHOTO: Victor Grabarczyk)