As a child in primary school, the discovery of writing fascinated me to such an extent that I remember writing on my father’s back when I saw him sitting quietly by the fire. The passion for reading, however, became the most possessive in my life and the one that gave me the most joy. I have yet to find a better way to multiply my soul than to frequent the countless people who have bequeathed us wisdom in the form of round letters.

Some time ago I read the story of a man who was walking in the countryside, when suddenly a tiger appeared. He ran like a rocket, because the beast was hot on his heels. Until he reached the edge of a cliff, over which he clung to the branch of a fig tree. Behind him, the tiger was sniffing at him; in the background, a lioness with sharp teeth ready to devour him. Just then, he saw a beautiful fig nearby and, holding on to the branch with one hand, he picked it up with the other. What a delight, what a drop of honey!

I love this parable because it is a good reflection of today’s world. People are so full of fear that they don’t appreciate the good things that are within their reach, nor are they saved.

Fear of violence and insecurity. Fear of war and terrorism. Fear of unemployment and marginalisation. Fear of cancerous diseases or AIDS. Fear of the devastating effects of drugs. Fear of weak instincts. Fear of the negative influence of the media. Fear of the misuse of progress: of genetic engineering and atomic energy, for example. Fear of light and heavy weapons, chemical and biological.

The most lethal virus is fear. Nothing can be built on fear. Fear paralyses. Pessimism cuts the legs and wings of the fearful and produces in them effects contrary to their aspirations. A young person who is afraid to take responsibility will be buried by the thorns of life. A father afraid of his children’s future surrounds them with prohibitions and walls that will only make them rebel. A politician unable to take action before it is imposed on him will become unpopular. An anguished priest or bishop will produce people disbelieving or disinterested in a faith that neither burns nor enlightens.

Fear is a poor substitute for hope and love. But even in Christianity fear has been cultivated: “Since they cannot be saved by love, at least let them be saved by fear”, certain terrorist preachers of the past seemed to think. But fear saves no one. Fear makes our path so dark that we dare not step forward.

The truth is that there are beautiful things beyond the avalanche of scandals, crimes, wars, crisis announcements, exaltation of negative role models and other things we are overwhelmed with every day. There are not only beasts and the abyss; there are also figs ripening with honey. For the darkest night, keep at least one match in your pocket. On the most desperate occasions there is always a crumb of joy not to be wasted. In the most parched deserts there is never lacking a shy flower to distract us. Even in the darkest pit we have a glimmer of blue sky above our heads. We can explore the immense energies that exist within us. We can trust in the inner richness of the people around us: there are more gold nuggets out there than we dream of! And if God cares for the birds, how much more will he care for his children!

Savouring the present moment is not about putting your head under a wing and folding your arms, hanging over the abyss. It means looking for any small temporary sign of salvation. It means keeping alive and burning the flame of hope, that “militant anticipation of the future”, according to Garaudy. It means appealing to the courage and audacity that make human beings great. And it is to move, to act.

Because “it is better to kindle a light than to curse the darkness”. Our redemption and that of the world is not done with miracles, but with small gestures and the passion we put into them. What is important is that we commit ourselves, drop by drop, to sowing small solutions and living them to the full. If we add hope and courage, tomorrow will be a better day. If we wallow in fear and bitterness, we are already defeated.

Indeed, according to President Roosevelt, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, that is, mediocrity, stupidity, cowardice, inaction, the mania for half-hearted living.

The parable with which I began has a happy ending: the tiger and the lioness tore each other apart and the man, taking advantage of a favourable gust of wind and making a supreme effort, managed to hug the trunk of the fig tree and return home. His mouth tasted of figs and honey.


Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf

(PHOTO: Jametlene Reskp)


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