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Conflict

AMDG

When we were Jesuit novices we read the autobiography of St Ignatius together. It was explained to us that Ignatius had been badgered for years to write down about his life.  It was only when he life was coming to an end that he agreed to do so and dictated his memoirs to Luis Gonsalves de Camara, a young Portuguese Jesuit.  In an age of hagiographical writing, were saints lives were often written with an undue reverence, and sometimes it was difficult to get to the history underneath the exaggerations, Ignatius was keen that his autobiography would show young Jesuits how he had learned from his mistakes and how God had patiently accompanied him through times of excessive zeal and superficial outward displays of ‘holiness’ and ‘penance’.

It seems that the first Jesuit Pope wishes to follow in his footsteps.  Whether he is talking about his time of painful ‘inner purification‘ in Cordoba in 1991, or his period of ‘therapy’ after stepping down as Provincial in the 70’s.  In 2013 he sent a letter to a Brazilian priest, Fr Alexandre Awi, who had acted as his interpreter on his first foreign visit as pope, to Rio de Janeiro. Discussing the ‘culture of encounter’ which as Pope he is so eager to promote, he talks about the traumatic experience of his mother’s side of his family where there was a lot of conflicts,  “In my family there was a long history of disagreements: uncles, cousins, fought and separated. As a child, I cried a great deal in secret when these fights were talked about or when we could see a new one coming. Sometimes I offered a sacrifice or a penance to try to prevent them occurring. It hurt me a lot. Thank God that at home Dad, Mom and my five brothers lived in peace…. I think that this marked me a lot as a kid and created in my heart the desire that people stopped fighting, that they stay together. And at least if they fight they are friends…. I am bit embarrassed after rereading what I wrote, but I think that in this story there is a germ of what over the years and in a conceptual way I called “Culture of the encounter”. It’s a craving that I’ve been since I was a boy” You can read excerpts of the letter here on the website Portaluz (in Spanish) – Link.

Understanding conflict and turning it into a creative experience has been a life-long concern of Jorge Bergoglio before he became Pope Francis.  His unpublished PHD is on the Italian- German priest philosopher Romano Guardini and his 1925 work, ‘Der Gegensatz’ (Contrast).  For Guardini contrast did not necessarily mean contradiction. He was interested in the whole range of human life: art, politics, ethics, religion,  science, in particular, the emerging field of psychology. Guardini’s thinking lead him to a deeper type of wisdom about the mystery of Life. He had a vision that gives things space, where opposites are brought together, the same space from where they emanate and where they return – which he called God.  The younger Bergoglio was particularly interested in how individuals related to groups, especially after his difficult experience as provincial and was attracted to Guardini’s thinking.  Understanding conflict, not being threatened by it, wanting to engage creatively with it but also realising how destructive it could be – as he recently said in his meeting with the Schoenstatt movement.

AMDG

Adolescence, the phase of life which marks the transition between childhood and adulthood, has officially been extended – at least according to UK Policy Makers – from 10-24.  This takes into account earlier puberty and a delayed transition into adulthood.  According to  Laurence Steinberg, in the western world adolescence is now three times longer than in the 19th Century and twice as long as in the 1950’s.  So this new official ruling means in the UK, statutory care for care leavers is now extended to the age of  24. Children in ‘care’, usually provided by foster parents,  leave home at the age of 16-18 and have a more abrupt transition into independent life.

The human infant is a helpless creature at birth, virtually immobile and unlike other primates,  cannot even hold on to or cling to his mother. Seventy-five percent of our brain develops after birth,  as is described in David Brooks fascinating book, ‘The Social Animal‘. We require years of development before we can care for ourselves, well into adolescence.  If for whatever reason a mother or father can’t provide this and the government needs to step in, statutory care involves support with housing, health, education, employment and many other things that a family would usually offer support with.

The age at which puberty begins is fairly simple to understand the physical changes that happen are easily observed. It seems that the body changes earlier in societies with better nutrition and health. So the recognizable biological indicators of the onset of puberty often occur around 10.  However, adolescence encompasses elements of biological growth and major social role transitions, both of which have changed in the past century.As regards social role transitions, the digital age has unleashed unprecedented social forces, which are affecting health and wellbeing across these years. So this expanded and more inclusive definition of adolescence is essential for the framing of laws, social policies, and service systems that are developmentally appropriate. The end of adolescence is more difficult to detect, and can have dangerous consequences – you may think because someone is in their late 20’s this is an adult where you a really dealing with someone who still a little child, but they mask it very well.  In religious life, someone can be in their 60’s but you suddenly realise that their behaviour at times is still adolescent.

These changes are important for all institutions to understand, particularly those institutions that need to recruit new members.  In the Catholic Church we joke about confirmation as being ‘the sacrament of exit’,  and often we go all ‘starry-eyed’ about young people, throw a lot of money at pastoral initiatives that have a limited success rate. We often also shut our eyes to the dark side of adolescence, or what Bill Plotkin calls patho-adolescence.  Religious orders that are facing a crisis in attracting novices, often operate out of models of vocation promotion that still are targeting school or college leavers. It usually isn’t even on their radar in our very utilitarian- education factories. However I think the real rich picking grounds now are in the late 20’s /early 30’s when the first career is coming to an end, a re-evaluation is happening hard-earned earned wisdom is starting to sprout.

Which is why I think we have a lot to learn from the Mormons.  I really admire the way that they prepare their young people to be self-sufficient. As a community, it seems that they have painfully had to realise the importance of self-reliance and I think they transmit that brilliantly to their youngsters.  I have only worked with the Mormons through a visionary friend of mine, Brian Grim.  I asked Brian last year what he would say to the Pope, when he next met him and he thought about it and said,  ‘Wouldn’t it be great if every young Catholic was invited to serve a period of mission like young Mormons do?” ‘ Brian has had a fascinating experience of mission himself and an amazing faith-story. The website ‘Faith Counts’ has a series called ‘Holy Envy’ asking different Christians what their tradition could learn from one of the other groups of Christians.  Brian has just written a piece about this and I recommend reading it if you have the time – click here .  He goes on to say,

It’s not just the time young adults spend serving a mission and the lives they impact that makes a difference. It’s also the years of spiritual, financial, and psychological preparation supported by friends, family and congregations that make a difference. This all adds to the spiritual and temporal strength of the LDS Church itself.

It’s not that Catholics don’t have mission programs. They do – FOCUS Missionaries (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and Maryknoll Mission Volunteers to name a few. The difference is that serving a mission tends to be the exception for Catholics rather than the rule.

 

AMDG

Amazon.com arguably is changing the world now more than Google or Facebook.  The online retailer is now more akin to a conglomerate, having long left behind just being a place to go and buy books. Now it is the world’s leading provider of cloud computing, this year it will spend twice as much on television as HBO, a cable channel, and developing its own range of Amazon-brand physical products including batteries, almonds, suits and speakers linked to a virtual voice-activated assistant.  This last product, Alexa, has a ‘must-buy’ buzz around it, many of my friends got it for Christmas. Alexa can control, among other things, your lamps and sprinklers, ‘she’ is your own digital personal assistant. However, before I start pontificating about the technological dystopia we are heading into, at least we can acknowledge that Alexa has some theological literacy as this great story shows.

Of course, the ‘tech-lash’ is just beginning, with grave concerns about Amazons growing dominance, it being both marketplace and retailer has an anti-competitive feel about it, and its ability to steamroll future regulators is worrying.  However more than the other tech giants, I think to understand Amazon you look no further than its intense bordering on sociopathic founder.  One of the most disruptive companies, it has been dreamt up and run by one of the ‘disrupters in chief’ Jeff Bezos. It’s revealing that the original name he dreamed up for his company was Relentless.com, in fact if you put that into Google you are taken directly to Amazon.   That one word, relentless, says something about Bezos that explains his success but also sums up something about his unsettling dark side.

I have recently finished reading a fascinating book, ‘The everything store – Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon‘.  The author Brad Stone has done a good job portraying the strength of this character – his unbounded drive and ambition, his unnerving search for truth at whatever expense. Stone recounts one incident which sums this up and is chilling and compelling. He describes how Bezos publicly humiliated one of his senior execs by calling Amazon’s number during a team meeting, in front of his colleagues, to check the man’s assertion that its phones were being picked up promptly. “Bezos took his watch off and made a deliberate show of tracking the time. A brutal minute passed, then two … Bezos’s face grew red; the vein in his forehead, a hurricane warning system, popped out”

What I found most poignant about the book was the narrative around his two fathers. His biological father was a circus unicyclist, Ted Jorgensen, who abandoned his mother when he was only one. His stepfather was a Cuban-American Miguel Bezos who was rescued from Cuba by a scheme sponsored by the Catholic Church, ‘Operation Pedro Pan’.  From December 1960 to October 1962, more than fourteen thousand Cuban youths arrived alone in the United States, it was the largest recorded exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere.  It puts the current British governments’ paltry response to the refugee crisis to shame.  Miguel Bezos left the Jesuit school (that, ironically, Fidel Castro had also attended) and was relocated and educated in the United States under the leadership of a young Irish priest, Fr Bryan O Walsh.   The Diocese of Miami organised the program created by the Catholic Welfare Bureau (Catholic Charities) of Miami in December 1960 at the request of parents in Cuba to provide an opportunity for them to send their children to Miami to avoid Marxist-Leninist indoctrination.  O’ Walsh died in 2001  and was an old boy of the Crescent, the Jesuit school in Limerick.

When you hear the backstory of his stepfather, meticulously researched by Brad Stone, you get an insight into this relentless drive. The stable and aspirational background Miguel and his mother gave him, with a strong awareness that all could be taken away from them at any stage. However most poignant, for me reading the book, was the courage it took the now famous Jeff Bezos to track down his real father – maybe it is that wound of abandonment that explains his uncompromising search for truth. Jeff Bezos is a disruptive leader and Amazon has ripped up the retailer’s rulebook in many ways.  Not least because it was the first online company to allow hostile reviews of products that it sold.  Relentless and truth at any cost – but perhaps driven by deep and disruptive events in his own childhood.