“The greatest threat that arises from individualism …”

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, recently delivered three public lectures in Australia. On August 31st, he spoke at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne on “Selling Everything For the Sake of the Kingdom.” In the lecture he identified the “threat” of this post’s title as the corrosion of “basic community.” In the “personal isolation” of the present, he suggests, many young people are still searching for communion with God, one another, and those who are in need.

Here is the Cardinal:

The greatest threat that arises from individualism is that ultimately it threatens social cohesion, the family and the community. And ultimately it threatens one of the most vital and perhaps fragile support systems we humans have ever devised – namely the basic community. At its best, such a community is the place of most profound human flourishing. It inspired Christians from St Benedict to Jean Vanier, Frère Roger, Mother Teresa, Francis of Assisi and countless others.

Our sense of communion, of community, is the most fundamental part of our being human. I think Sartre, who said “Hell is other people”, was fundamentally wrong. To be human means to be in relationship and so the concentration on the individual in contemporary society has brought in its wake greater personal isolation and loneliness. One need only look at the high incidence of suicide among young adult men.

If I have in any way accurately read the text of our times, I believe that today many young people are themselves part of a community which is searching, and that search is a challenge to the whole Church to journey with them in their seeking. In particular, young people are engaged in their search in three ways. Firstly, they are seeking God, but don’t always know where to go.

Secondly, they are seeking to Belong, they are seeking Community. Just a few weeks ago I was in Lourdes and went to visit a community called The Cenacolo. It was an extraordinary moving experience. The Cenacolo is a house of forty men, all of whom had been drug addicts. Many of them had been on drugs for years and had found that all efforts to get them off addiction had come to nothing. Through the inspiration of a Sister Elvira, fifty of these homes have now been founded. They are communities which rely totally on providence. Each person staying there, through prayer, through the community, through their service to each other, had found not only that they were able to overcome their addiction but also had found a peace and meaning to their lives.

In that community was a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, which is not one without effort and difficulty. It is like the pearl of great price which, having been found, brings great joy. I remember one of them saying to me, “We are taught to have a mind to the person beside us in whatever we are doing, whether it is making a meal, or painting a wall, or working in the field. It moves us beyond our self to look at the other.” And I think that is something of what young people crave. They need to know that they are loved, that someone is looking out for them. In community they can discover a place of healing, of forgiveness, and the opportunity of a fresh start.

Thirdly, I believe, that our young people are seeking the Poor, and how we may reach out to those in most need. This is something the young know instinctively. They are scandalised by any show of religion which does not have an eye to the most needy. I find today that young people are very generous, very willing to reach out to those who are on the margins: the poor, the needy. The words of St. Matthew still ring true: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me to drink. I was a stranger and you made me welcome, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.”

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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