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There is currently a lot of debate about how toxic parts of the internet are becoming. Whether it’s disinformation campaigns, ‘Troll Farms’ or data being ‘mined’ and exploited.  As important as all these things are there is something more fundamentally dystopian that I am concerned about – we seem to be raising a generation who are not being taught how to forgive and move on.  Until the internet learns how to forget it cannot forgive. We have a generation who are being encouraged to put all their private lives online, who are becoming emotionally dependent on ‘how many followers you have’ or ‘how many likes you have got’.  This is not an emotionally resilient generation.  So when they make mistakes, which they inevitably will, rather than being supported by loving parents (which I was) they are being publically shamed by their peers.  Generalisations of course…. there are always exceptions but I think if you spot a digitally wise teenager you are spotting a future leader.  Many of their peers are in danger of growing up to be neurotic, emotional control freaks who are both excessively permissive and also harshly puritanical.

How important it is and how difficult it is to let things go.  Resentment can act like a snake that coils around your heart and slowly squeezes so that a heart of flesh becomes a heart of stone.  Resentment is the opposite of gratitude – it tells me that I don’t receive what I deserve. Gratitude receives the unfolding of life as a constant gift and has the renewing and refreshing quality of a gurgling mountain stream. Resentment wraps us up in darkness and our memories stagnate and become distorted.

This is why, when it is appropriate and we are ready, we need the grace of forgetting in order to forgive and let go. However, the internet is in danger of becoming an engine of resentment. In the UK there has been a succession of stories where people who have broken through to a high profile role have suddenly been brought low because of something they said on the Internet when they were younger and they should have known better. Immature opinions and angry outbursts come back to haunt people.  So someone in their late 20’s who works hard and is talented, gets a high profile job and then has to endure a media tornado of shaming because of something they said online when they were 16 and suddenly lose their job.  Online shaming has seen the unwelcome re-emergence of the destructive phenomena of public shaming.

There was an important ruling in the EU for the ‘right to be forgotten’ in 2012.   This allowed individuals to request that their names were removed from search engines, allowing EU citizens to  “determine the development of their life in an autonomous way, without being perpetually or periodically stigmatized as a consequence of a specific action performed in the past.”  In this age of the ‘techlash’ and a new interest in ‘digital-parenting’, I often talk to students about how important it is to clean up your digital footprint. Their Facebook timeline is of much more interest to prospective employers than their CV’s.

All in all, it is becoming a tougher climate in which to promote the much-needed process of reconciliation.


There is a tribe in South Sudan which is called the Mabaan Tribe and they are known as a quiet and peaceful people. They don’t use guns or drums, unlike neighbouring tribes, and are famous for their ability to listen. An American study on them was made in the 1960’s by Samuel Rosen.  It was discovered that the hearing of Mabaan tribe members at the age of 70 was superior to that of Americans in their twenties.    2 Mabaans standing 300 ft apart to each other could carry on a conversation in soft voices, with their backs.  Their extraordinary preservation of hearing was partly due to their low-fat diet and mainly that they lived in such a quiet environment. The human ear has not evolved yet to cope with the noise that it is subjected too.

According to the UN, ten years ago humanity passed a significant threshold. In 2008, for the first time, the world’s population was evenly split between urban and rural areas. Since then the urban population has outstripped the rural populations.  There were more than 400 cities over 1 million and 19 over 10 million. More developed nations were about 74 percent urban, while 44 percent of residents of less developed countries lived in urban areas.  With the majority of humankind now living in cities in much noisier environments their will an increased deterioration in our hearing.  In cities, this is due to the imbalance in our environment between noise and silence – rapidly increasing the aging process of our complex ears.

Noise pollution is becoming a significant problem and not just in urban areas. Our oceans are becoming noisier – with the phenomenon of mass whale beaching possibly due to the increased noises from bigger boats, more sea traffic, offshore wind farms etc. There seems to be a growing interest in promoting silence.  It is also a justice matter as it is often the poorest who are most affected by noise pollution.


How do we know we are on the right track in life? There are many cues that we get from our friends, work, family,  that we are socially integrating well.  Sometimes this is not enough and we become aware of deeper things and internal experiences. We get an itch that something is missing or conversely we sense that everything is going well.

Human beings are quite brilliant in many ways, with varying levels of mastery in different areas. Howard Gardener famously classified 9 types of intelligence or 9 ways of being smart –

  • Naturalist (nature smart)
  • Musical (sound smart)
  • Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart)
  • Existential (life smart)
  • Interpersonal (people smart)
  • Bodily-kinesthetic (body smart)
  • Linguistic (word smart)

St Ignatius teaches us how to be spiritually intelligent.  Maybe that is linked with being ‘life smart’.

Aware of the complexity and richness of our inner life – Ignatius talks about ‘spiritual movements’. He describes spiritual consolation as being an interior movement.  In order to recognise consolation,  one has to be sensitive to the whole fluid and elusive world of one’s feelings and reactions and so we have to be wary of false-consolations. Spiritual consolation is more than just ‘feeling good’,  our feelings vary and sometimes are not trustworthy. So how can we discern than an experience is one of true consolation? Ignatius says it will be marked by an increase of faith, hope, love and interior joy.  It also leads to a sense of peace which has a deeper quality to it – the peace which the world cannot give.

download (2)We shouldn’t be suspicious of consolation especially when we are surrounded by a narrative of decline in society and in the church. It is easy to mistrust it – or not expect it if we have low expectations and our hearts have become hardened.  Pope Francis in an address to his fellow Jesuits at their most recent General Congregation to be insistently seeking consolation. “ It is the task of the Society to console the faithful and to help with discernment so that the enemy of human nature does not rob us of joy: the joy of evangelising, the joy of the family, the joy of the Church, the joy of creation. That it does not rob from us, neither in discouragement when faced with the greatness of the ills of the world and the misunderstandings between those who presume to do good, nor fill us with fatuous joys that are always to hand in any shop. Thisservice of joy and spiritual consolation’ is rooted in prayer. It consists of encouraging us and encouraging all to insistently ask for God’s consolation. … Practising and teaching this prayer of asking and begging for consolation is the principal service to joy. … Joy is not a decorative ‘plus’, but rather a clear indication of grace: it indicates that love is active, operative and present … and it is sought in its existential index which is permanence. In the Exercises, progress in spiritual life is given in consolation. … This service of joy was what led the first companions to decide not to disband but to constitute the society they offered and they shared spontaneously, and whose characteristic was the joy that they received from praying together, going out in mission together and returning to reunite, in imitation of the life the Lord led with His Apostles. This joy of the explicit proclamation of the Gospel – through the preaching of faith and the practice of justice and mercy – is what led the Society to go out towards all the peripheries. The Jesuit is a servant of the joy of the Gospel”.


Spiritual Exercises    Rule Three – First week

I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord; and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all.

Likewise, when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one’s sins, or for the Passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly connected with His service and praise.

Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.