President's Reflection - October 29, 2021

JMJ

Dear members of the De La Salle Community:

“In time we hate what we fear.”  – William Shakespeare.

At the beginning of the school year, I happened to notice a head line in one of our newspapers with a large print caption – Why Are We So Angry? I began what was a few days of reflection on this question that does seem so applicable to our days. Not long before the pandemic, it was becoming clear that many individuals and groups seemed particularly intent on voicing their displeasure in ways that are not normally considered acceptable. Circumstances which led to unrest served to intensify a climate of anger and hatred, some arguably justifiable. In our country, there are events of the past which have surfaced as well. It is fair to say that some wounds require lancing before healing can occur. Yet, it should be healing we seek not an incessant state of grievance that does nothing to bring us forward to genuine reconciliation.

Events in the United States and elsewhere saw an increase in rather shockingly violent actions at both ends of the political and social spectrum sometimes tacitly promoted by politicians. This subsided to some degree but has, it seems to me, gone somewhat underground into a kind of simmering ember ready to ignite when the situation arises. That no generation is able to claim a moral high ground doesn’t seem to matter to those who clamour for change regardless of who may be hurt getting in the way.

It is probably true that, in the last number of years, there is a growing belief that governments really do not call the shots or that they are unable to govern. The lack of faith and trust in government and other institutions like the Church are at an all time low. Even where justifiable, the lack of trust in others indicates how deep anger and fear have taken hold of us. As Holy Scripture says, there is no prince, prophet or leader. I am certain that historians will determine what has happened, but for now I can only submit that much of this is the result of the very significant diminishment in a belief in the divine and a corollary state of skepticism that has evolved in to a society incapable of inspiring trust. Ours is a society which prefers complaining to constructive action.

It would require an entire study to determine the nature and causes of the current state. I limit myself here to opining to a limited degree on the effects this situation may have on our young people and the relations we have in a school community. Without trust, schools cannot function as they should.

One can see how quickly our students got back into the routine of school and how much they are genuinely happy to be back at school. Naturally, schools are about book learning but, after months and months of virtual learning, our students have told us that they need to be here and they need to be with one another. This reinforces what most of us believe - that human beings are social animals. As much as it can help to see someone on facetime or on Zoom, a steady diet of this kind of interaction actually distorts reality. Images are images and they can be good when there are no alternatives, but they fail to satisfy the deepest human needs or even, one might say, the human soul. The need for real human contact has been, if nothing else, reaffirmed to be essential for meaningful human relations. The learning process is inadequate without this quality. This quality requires trust that teachers and administrators are here for the welfare of the students. Students must trust one another in the daily events of school life. This is the reason in Catholic teaching, the school is considered the extension of the home.

It seems to me that the general atmosphere of grievances from all quarters of society is, in part, the result of competing voices in the human psyche. For people of my generation and older, there is the inclination to want to cling to some familiar territory when it comes to faith, family, and a cultural morality that is based on Judeo-Christian principles. Another set of voices of those between the ages of thirty and fifty seem often dismissive of faith, preferring an undefined spirituality that rejects any institutionalism or formalism. Family and human sexuality are less certain and the general view of morality has decidedly less personal significance, preferring social activism as the sole route to salvation. Naturally, these are generalizations but I think there is some truth to them. To be clear, this does not make one right and the other wrong. It does underscore the state of confusion in which we live. This inability to come together creates a lack of trust and, where there is a lack of trust, we see increased anger and its shadow, fear.

My parents’ generation could be prejudiced and may have had an overly exaggerated sense of private morality. Today’s younger generation can be arrogant, judgemental, and insufficiently concerned about the consequences of actions which do not appear to hurt others. These competing views of society are a recipe for clashes. On top of all this, we have seen the dangers of political extremism often at opposite poles with little reasoned middle ground. This can easily be said of the state of our Church. Many Catholics view their faith in an increasingly narrow interpretation. Debates about forms of liturgy, family life, human sexuality, ethics, and history, to mention a few, have become stalemated without much good will to an openness to learn from one another, remembering that there does exist a divinely inspired deposit of faith and a balanced sense of tradition that can provide a definite framework to guide believers. I am surprised at how many Catholics, although well-meaning, allow their political tendencies to colour their faith-life without taking the needed time to reflect on the truths of faith which remain beyond the grasp of political debate and the ephemeral world.

I suppose it is fair to state that the seemingly infinite world of social media lends itself to the kind of world where anything goes. It is easy to live vicariously in our favourite sites, and surf, usually in the direction we want, to those things that resonate with our own views and feelings. Unfortunately, this does not leave much room for others in the world we build around ourselves. I don’t know for certain but it is my sense that we become most angry when in our limited world is in some way upset or threatened. Not surprisingly all of this leads to more fear and anxiety than is healthy.

We must now consider how this situation affects our young people. Especially after the challenges of the last year and half, it is important for us as adults, teachers and parents, to be aware of how we may be participating in what must appear to be a schizophrenic view of the world where the young are torn in many directions. Simple solutions, while attractive to some, to shield the young from the contemporary world will not suffice. A wide berth where there are no parameters is equally dangerous.

A recognition of our realities cleansed by the inspiration of the comes from acknowledging the beauty of creation and nobility of respecting our neighbour is the more lasting way to hand on to our children. If this sounds like the route Christ set forth for us, it is. It is the Kingdom of God at hand.

To return to the initial concern about an almost permanent state of anger, we can see that, in the Christian message, forgiveness is an absolute necessity without which love can never grow. Anger must lead to something being achieved. It can only be achieved when we are ready to put it aside for something better. Anger can be caused by injustice. It can be caused by frustration. It can be caused by not getting our own way. The first can be a healthy anger. The second an understandable anger. The third is an excuse. We need to teach our young these differences or we will continue down a road of equating these when they are not the same. In fact, when we confuse them we may lead the young in the wrong direction. More seriously, anger leads to irrational fears and goodness knows this is a major problem right now. It is hard to trust when there are so many competing views on any given situation.

There are some eternal truths. We need to hang on to them tightly in a world that does not accept them.  A belief in the welfare of others and sacrifice for the other is one of them.

The last many months have been challenging for many. As I have written in the past, our generation simply does not possess the resiliency of our parents and grandparents. No doubt the pandemic has been difficult especially for the elderly and the young but I do think it is worth reflecting on the degree to which the anxiety many are experiencing has more to do with not being able to do what we want, when we want, and how we want. It seems to me that it would be impossible to compare this to what other generations had to do to survive a depression and cope with the exigencies of a war time world. It is hard to convey this to a generation like ours that is so absorbed in its own obsession with self.  There is no need to care about others in a world where the other does not matter.

Recently, the Mennonite Church of Canada issued a statement that may be helpful for us to consider. Its genesis had to do with the matter of seeking exemptions for vaccination against Covid-19 but I find that it could be applied to many aspects of today’s world where we place our own opinions, feelings, and needs before those of others and try to justify them in our faith traditions.

It reads as follows: “From the earliest biblical writings, in the words of Jesus Christ and in ecclesial writings since Jesus’ Ascension, the command to love God and love our neighbour is paramount. Vaccinations allow us to live out this command. Not only do they reduce the severity of symptoms for those who become infected with Covid–19, but they reduce the risk of spreading the virus to those around us. “ When the love of neighbour is at the centre of our lives we don’t often fail in doing good. Catholics and other people of faith would do well, in my opinion, to pray on this statement. Often, I have listened to some conclude that one’s own freedom is more important than all else. This has never been true. Freedom without responsibilities and sacrifices promote a seriously flawed sense of citizenry characteristic of civilizations on the brink of irrelevance and collapse. They are societies inebriated by their own delusions.

In the end, the Great Commandments of love of God and neighbour remind us that, if we choose to focus on anger and stumble into the future with fear as our sole companion, we will neglect to be aware of the world around us and those with whom we share this life’s journey, especially the young. This is not a world that faith bids us give to our children.

Blessings. 

Brother Domenic, fsc