In a videotaped address to the 2017 TED conference, a yearly gathering where innovative thinkers give talks about their ideas, Pope Francis recently spoke about the value of every person in society, saying, “Quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.”
The Pope’s TED talk provided a moving moment during a conference focused on technology and the future. Northeast Public Radio’s Nina Gregory watched from a simulcast viewing area outside the theater and said of the talk, “There were people around me who cried, others who watched, rapt…. He got a standing ovation in the theater.”
Pope Francis has spoken in the past about the need to harness technology to bring people together rather than simply allowing modern innovations to diminish human interaction. In his message delivered ahead of the 48th World Communications Day, Francis talked about loneliness in the modern world, saying:
“A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive…. The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.” But later he says, “The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment…. The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbors, from those closest to us.”
Our Christopher News Note on loneliness highlights that a sense of isolation is not unique to modern existence. In his spiritual classics “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” and “Dark Night of the Soul,” St. John of the Cross, a 16th century doctor of the Church, explores the loneliness that can occur in our relationship with God. He explains that sometimes God allows us to feel isolated in order to draw us into a deeper relationship. St. John knew loneliness well. His writings evolved out of mystical poetry he penned while locked in a 10-by-6 foot cell during a time of persecution within his own order.
Mother Teresa’s writings reveal that she experienced a long “dark night of the soul,” resigning herself to do God’s will and help others despite her own sense of spiritual isolation. She wrote of her relationship with God: “Let Him do with me whatever He wants as He wants for as long as He wants if my darkness is light to some soul – even if it be nothing to nobody – I am perfectly happy to be God’s flower in the field.” Mother Teresa understood that the trials she experienced could help her grow closer to God by prompting her to live a life dedicated to alleviating the sense of isolation experienced by others.
In his recent Urbi et Orbi blessing from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica on Easter Sunday, Pope Francis talked about how we overcome loneliness to find friendship with God through our interactions with others, saying, “The Risen Shepherd goes in search of all those lost in the labyrinths of loneliness and marginalization. He comes to meet them through our brothers and sisters who treat them with respect and kindness, and helps them to hear his voice, an unforgettable voice, a voice calling them back to friendship with God.”
When we experience a sense of isolation, we must recognize God’s call to reach beyond our own suffering to offer friendship to those in need, and when we do that for each other, we discover the friendship of God.
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