Against the tragedy of habit

True newness is to glimpse the Mystery in all things. A meditation on contemplation and on how to look at reality.

The times in which we live are not easy times; they are times of the persecution of man. At times, this takes the form of obvious facts, such as wars or terrorist attacks. Other times, they are more silent actions or are even camouflaged with goodness and magnanimity. In every case, they are actions that wound the person in the most essential aspects of his humanity: freedom, religiosity, affections, education, life and death. Reading the newspapers, in the best of all possible hypotheses, one senses a certain impotence, a resigned pain that, in time, becomes complaint and the loss of hope.

Recently, I yet again ran across the words that Bruce Marshall puts in the mouth of the protagonist of this famous novel, The world, the flesh and Fr. Smith. In front of the seriously worrying situation of the Church in his time, he exclaims: «”Well, well, if trouble comes, it’ll keep our religion from getting rusty,” Father Smith said. “That’s the great thing about persecution: it keeps you up to the mark. It’s habit, not hatred, that is the real enemy of the Church of God.”»

“It’s habit, not hatred, that is the real enemy of the Church of God”

When we read for the nth time about the same conflicts or persecutions, the most shocking thing is to see a certain disinterest, a kind of “getting used to” the situation. If we really think about it, this does not apply only to the most sensational facts, as much as, and above all to, our daily life. A verse from the Book of Revelations says: Behold, I make all things new. Why do we struggle so much to experience the newness of reality? How is it that the things that once provoked us, provoked wonder, gratitude, pain and rage, with time become “normal” if not boring?

One of the reasons I think is that we are no longer able to look at what is there; we have lost the ability to contemplate. It happens not infrequently that we cannot remember things or faces we have just met, movies we have seen or books we have read. Maybe it is just a memory problem. However, I think it is more of a “sight” problem. We see so many pictures, listen to so many podcasts, meet so many people, but it all slips away from us, caught up as we are with the next thing to do, keeping our schedule (which we have often imposed on ourselves!), the future to live. And so we miss the present.

The word “contemplate” comes from the Latin words cum and templum, meaning “with” and “space of heaven,” respectively. In ancient times, it indicated the activity of observing the flight of birds in a circumscribed space of sky. It thus indicated the raising of one’s gaze or more properly letting something enter one’s horizon.

Today, more than ever, we need to know how to welcome the other into our own personal horizon, to welcome in what we see before us, whether it is a tree, a painting or a human face. For this reason, we must learn to be still interiorly, to be silent to be able to truly listen to the other. How many times in the Gospels does Jesus show us this contemplative gaze on reality? Everyone who was with him saw the same things or persons, and yet, He knew how to point out some aspect that no one else was able to see. Think about the way in which He contemplated the widow who made her offering in the temple. Or else how he admired the nature of the lilies in the field.

Wonder is born from contemplation, from paying attention to what exists in such a way as to discover the newness that is hidden in everything

Is it possible that we can have the same gaze as Christ? Yes, if only we have the humility to ask Him for it and to let ourselves be educated through the human companionship to which He Himself has entrusted us. Exactly the same way it happened to his disciples while they were with Him.

Wonder is born, therefore, from contemplation, from paying attention to what exists in such a way as to discover the newness that is hidden in everything. A newness that is called Mystery. The gaze of Jesus is a gaze inhabited by Another, as Fr. Giussani once said. He can look this way at the real in as much as he was a true man, that is, a son of the Father. Discovering the Mystery in the other is the truest way to look, a way that makes it sacred, and the times in which we live have an extreme need for this. Only God made man can give us this gaze that rips us from the tragedy of habit and makes us capable of encountering Him in everything and in everyone. As C.S. Lewis said in a beautiful passage: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”

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