A serious duty

In view of all the horrors of the world, the same question unceasingly arises: Does God exist? And if he exists, is he truly good? Might he not be instead a mysterious and dangerous reality? In modern times this question is posed differently: the existence of God seems to be a limit to our freedom. He is perceived as a sort of supervisor who pursues us with his glance. In the modern era, the rebellion against God assumes the form of a fear of an omnipresent, all-seeing God. His glance appears as a threat to us; indeed, we prefer not to be seen; we just want to be ourselves and nothing more. Man does not feel free, he does not feel that he is truly himself, until God is set aside. The story of Adam already notes this: he sees God as a competitor. Adam wants to lead his own life, all alone, and tries to hide from God “among the trees of the garden” (Gen 3:8). Sartre, too, declared that we must deny God, even if he must exist philosophically, because the concept of God is opposed to man’s freedom and greatness.

But has the world really become brighter, freer, happier after setting God aside? Or has man not been stripped of his own dignity and condemned to an empty freedom that makes cruel and ruthless choices of all sorts? God’s glance frightens us only if we think of him as reducing us to some kind of servitude or slavery; but if we read in it the expression of his love, we discover that he is the fundamental requirement for our very being, that it is he who makes us live. “He who has seen me has seen the Father”, Jesus said to Philip and to us all (Jn 14:9). Jesus’ face is the face of God himself this is what God is like. Jesus suffered for us, and by his death he has given us peace; he reveals to us who God is. His glance, far from being a threat, is a glance that saves us.

Yes, we can rejoice that God exists, that he has revealed himself to mankind, and that he does not leave us alone. How consoling it is to know the telephone number of a friend, to know good people who love us, who are always available and never aloof: at any time we can call them and they can call us. This is precisely what the Incarnation of God in Christ says to us: God has written our names and phone numbers in his address book! He is always listening; we do not need money or technology to call him. Thanks to baptism and confirmation, we are privileged to belong to his family. He is always ready to welcome us: “Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).

But the Gospel. . .adds a particularly important statement: Jesus promises the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13), whom he calls, several times, the “Paraclete”. What does that mean? In Latin, the word is translated as Consolator, the Comforter. Etymologically, the Latin word means: the one who stays by us when we feel lonely. Thus our solitude ceases to be loneliness. For a human being, solitude is often a place of unhappiness; he needs love, and solitude makes the absence of it conspicuous. Loneliness indicates a lack of love; it is something that threatens our quality of life at the deepest level. Not being loved is at the core of human suffering and personal sadness. The word Consoler tells us precisely that we are not alone, that we can never feel abandoned by Love.

By the gift of the Holy Spirit, God has entered into our loneliness and has shattered it. Indeed, this is genuine consolation; it does not consist merely of words but has the force of an active and effective reality. During the Middle Ages this definition of the Spirit as Consoler led to the Christian duty of entering into the solitude of those who suffer. The first hospices and hospitals were dedicated to the Holy Spirit: thus men undertook the mission of continuing the Spirit’s work; they dedicated themselves to being “consolers”, to entering into the solitude of the sick, the suffering, and the elderly, so as to bring them light.

This is still a serious duty for us today, in our time.