I am more and more convinced that in the world and in the Church today, many people – and I speak for myself – are living in heresy. That’s right: vital heresy.
And if anyone thinks that this expression is mine and smells like a priest, they are sorely mistaken: Igor Caruso, who was not only a psychologist but also an excellent philosopher, used it several years ago. For him, the human being is much more than a sardine or a bowl: a mere body; the human being has another dimension, besides the physical one. Only a psychology that recognises the validity of metaphysics makes a decisive contribution to solving human problems.
The human being – he taught – is only happy, balanced, healthy, when he has a scale, a hierarchy of values and respects it. There are absolute values and relative values. There is only one absolute value: the Absolute, the Transcendent. God. Relative values are the others: the person, life, beauty, money, work… The human being runs the danger of inverting the hierarchy, the order of vital values, the danger of altering them, ignoring them, mutilating some of them and absolutising others. Here we have, according to Caruso, the vital heresy, in opposition to the orthodoxy of the values of life.
Let it not be said that many people, even many believers, do not truly worship the luxury and rubbish of the consumer society; they do not feel the fascination for the sub-gods of television, of the cinema, for the heroes of the day. In a word: they do not “absolutise the relative”. And so they are not in search of immediate sensations, of ephemeral things, products to be “shaken up, used and thrown away”.
Nor can I be told that many people, even some believers, do not reveal a feeling of emptiness, of intimate dissatisfaction because they lead a meaningless life, incapable of fulfilling their oceanic capacity for happiness; or that stresses, anxieties, depressions, complexes, repressions, loneliness, immaturities and neuroses of all kinds do not abound. In short, a whole morbid procession that has nothing to do with satisfactory physical and psychological health. “Only one thing saves us: the hierarchy of values, vital orthodoxy”.
The truth is that even numerous Christians – without excluding those who bear the label of consecrated – are heretics. That’s right: vital heretics.
It is said that we live in a time when there is no time to reflect, to pray, to dialogue with people, to take care of our health, to love, to create, to savour life. Is it a question of time or a question of a hierarchy of values, of mental priorities? Lack of time or vital disorder? Is “I don’t have time” not a small spoonful of sugar, a polite way of saying: “I don’t care, it’s not important for me”?
We absolutize work, for example. Well, far be it from me to speak ill of work, and for two reasons: first, because my father taught me nothing else, and second, and because it gives me tons of joy. But work has the power to enslave, it can be a drug like tobacco, whisky, heroin, gambling. It can be an excess, a deformation, an abuse. Work is only human,” Paul VI taught, “when it leaves room and space for God, for others, for the cultivation of ourselves, for fruitful leisure, for our equilibrium, for true self-esteem, for continual renewal. A person who works inhumanely, like a machine, becomes worn out, exhausted, neurotic, exhausted. Tell me if he doesn’t deserve the name of heretic?
Then, perhaps, he sinks into a sofa like a cat in front of the television set. Have you noticed how the admirable means of communication – video, radio, television, Internet – have become means of non-communication; passports to an individualistic life, of superficial relationships? Television was still in its infancy and already the Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Thomas Eliot, stated that “television is a kind of distraction that allows millions of people to hear the same joke at the same time and yet remain alone. No living, intimate, deep, warm, dignified relationship is possible with these modern slaves who look so much they end up seeing nothing; listen so much they end up hearing nothing.
Where is the scale of values?
To escape from the heresy of life, we must be sunflowers of God. When he enters a heart,” said Teresa of Avila, “all the furniture goes out of the window. He admits no rivals or competitors of any kind. God – the axis of our living. God is at the top of the table.
Soon the next one will come. To a question on French television: “What is the most important thing in your life?”, Abbé Pierre gave an immediate reply: “The others”. What would happen if we define ourselves as men and women for whom the most important thing is the others?
Then, a place and time to nourish one’s own blood, one’s own life. Through constant and fruitful activity, in partnership with God; with the oxygen of friendship; by enjoying refreshing and creative leisure; by dipping occasionally into the wells of the soul through reflection and reading.
And, by proceeding in this way, we will no longer speak of vital heresy.
Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf
(PHOTO: Brett Jordan)