According to the French religious thinker, Simone Weil, affliction is not a psychological state.  Rather, “it is a pulverization of the soul by the mechanical brutalization of circumstances”.  The crucified Christ was for her the perfect example of some one afflicted:  in physical pain, emotional despair and spiritual desolation.
Weil recognized that affliction does not only affect individuals, but can affect societies as well.  I would suggest that we are living in an afflicted society.  I see the following symptoms as bearing out this intuition:
  • a massive destruction of the environment (our common home) and the denial of climate change.
  • a culture in which religious values and the divine do not have central place and where people are consistently devalued.
  • a lack of intimacy in people’s lives and the resulting loneliness and the incapacity of sustaining long term relationships.
  • an unwillingness to ease the gap between the rich and the poor with the result of millions of migrants clamoring at the doors of the west.
  • a general erosion of confidence in age old institutions like government, church, schools, and courts.

All of these strike me as evidence that we are a people whose souls are being pulverized.

Weil goes on to say that “when thought finds itself, through the force of circumstances,  brought face to face with affliction, it takes immediate refuge in lies.  Falsehood and affliction are closely linked”.

St. Ignatius teaches in his Spiritual Exercises that one of the main ploys of the evil one is deception.  Satan is the father of lies and uses lies to put us in turmoil and thus distance us from God.

Our society is deceived about the reality of its own affliction.  We are easily beguiled by our affluence into thinking that everything is alright.  The beauty of the Canadian landscape deceives us into thinking that our planet is not in jeopardy.  Our sense of individual and democratic liberty deceives us into thinking that we are really free.  We have a distorted view of reality.

Spiritual writer, David Benner claims in his book “Surrender to Love” that “no one gets very far on the path of Christian spirituality without two things – space for contemplative reflection and engagement with others who share the journey”.

I would add that the best way to deal with our affliction is by contemplation and community.  The former clarifies our vision while the latter provides a base from which to live within an afflicted society and work against it.

Contemplation is the grace of being able to see that God is united to creation and that we are all one. Thus we are not seeking a union with God, but an awareness of at union with God and with one another.

Simply put, such a way of seeing means that as long as one person in this world hungers, I can never be fully satisfied; as long as one person is imprisoned, I can never be free; as long as one person is excluded, I can never fully belong.  This is the contemplative vision which we espouse at Eucharist.

Aristotle said that contemplation is the highest form of human activity.  Yet we don’t teach it in our universities, nor do we preach it in our churches and it is rarely practiced in our spiritual centres.

In the  past, religious communities in the Church arose to meet the challenge of barbarism, of heresy, of poverty and ignorance.  Today the Church needs new communities of active contemplatives and contemplatives in action to meet the challenge of affliction.

Doug McCarthy, SJ is an associate pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes in Toronto.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 01:16h, 22 June Reply

    Thank you Doug!

  • Sharon Walters
    Posted at 09:30h, 22 June Reply

    Thank you for blessing us with your wisdom.

  • Roger Yaworski
    Posted at 12:13h, 22 June Reply

    Thanks Doug for this. It resonates with me.

  • Karen Arthurs
    Posted at 20:05h, 22 June Reply

    I hope people of power and influence will, have,are reading your well stated position on our present day reality.

  • Sean Foley
    Posted at 22:08h, 24 June Reply

    Doug – Your honest assessment of our situation and your call for contemplation in action make for powerful, nourishing wisdom. Thank you!

  • Janet Somerville
    Posted at 00:18h, 25 June Reply

    What a powerful, concisely expressed insight about the peculiar suffering of the present time! Thank you, Father Doug!

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