Cur­ing a scourg­ing malaise

Malta Independent - - LETTERS -

Con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety is trag­i­cally scourged by lone­li­ness. The North Amer­i­can ac­tress and singer, Anne Jac­que­line Hath­away, had the courage to con­fess: “Lone­li­ness is my least favourite thing about life. The thing that I’m most wor­ried about is just be­ing alone with­out any­body to care for or some­one who will care for me”.

In an in­ter­est­ing ar­ti­cle in Time Mag­a­zine en­ti­tled “Why Lone­li­ness May Be the Next Big Pub­lic-Health Is­sue”, Justin Wor­land pointed out that “lone­li­ness kills”. In or­der to sub­stan­ti­ate his idea he cited a rather shock­ing study car­ried out by Brigham Young Univer­sity. This study clearly shows that lone­li­ness in the United States is on a par with obe­sity and sub­stance abuse. Wor­land writes: “The sub­jec­tive feel­ing of lone­li­ness in­creases risk of death by 26 per cent, ac­cord­ing to the new study in the jour­nal Per­spec­tives on Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence. So­cial iso­la­tion – or lack­ing so­cial con­nec­tion – and liv­ing alone were found to be even more dev­as­tat­ing to a per­son’s health than feel­ing lonely, re­spec­tively in­creas­ing mor­tal­ity risk by 29 per cent and 32 per cent”.

Some years ago in an ar­ti­cle writ­ten in one of the lo­cal English news­pa­pers en­ti­tled “Lone­li­ness – so­ci­ety’s taboo”, Dr Her­bert Messina Fer­rante said that “lone­li­ness is the fastest grow­ing dis­ease of the mod­ern world, killing more than can­cer and heart dis­ease. It is said that lone­li­ness dam­ages the chem­i­cal and elec­tri­cal re­sponses in our im­mune sys­tem that help the body fight dis­ease”.

No one is im­mune from feel­ing lonely. It is re­ally amaz­ing that some­times you can feel lonely in the least imag­in­able of places where you would, in fact, feel loved and ac­cepted. In­clud­ing, sadly, even by the Church. I can never for­get what Pope Fran­cis said about this: “In this time of cri­sis we can­not be con­cerned solely with our­selves, with­draw­ing into lone­li­ness, dis­cour­age­ment and a sense of pow­er­less­ness in the face of prob­lems. Please do not with­draw into your­selves! This is a dan­ger: we shut our­selves up in the parish, with our friends, within the move­ment, with the like-minded... but do you know what hap­pens? When the Church closes in on her­self, she be­comes an ail­ing Church, she falls ill! That is a dan­ger. A church that closes in on it­self is the same – a sick church.”

Can lone­li­ness be eased? Yes! If you and I care enough about those around us who feel and are in­deed lonely, that is. Ac­cord­ing to the ar­ti­cle Lone­li­ness – so­ci­ety’s taboo, “there is a ready cure for lone­li­ness. It needs no mir­a­cle drugs, no mas­sive in­vest­ment, nor win­ning the Su­per 5. It needs us, the politi­cians, me­dia, the Church. A phone call, a card, a lunch with that lonely per­son can do the trick. Sim­ply keep­ing in touch helps. So any­one who has a rel­a­tive, a friend who is alone es­pe­cially dur­ing a fes­tive pe­riod, pay a visit, pick up the phone, write a short let­ter, send flow­ers, and show some con­cern. And hope that when it your turn comes, as it in­evitably will, there will be some­one there”.

Pope Fran­cis con­tin­ued to elab­o­rate and re­fine what Dr Messina Fer­rante sug­gested by prop­a­gat­ing the idea of cre­at­ing a fam­ily spirit. In his Gen­eral Au­di­ence On the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Church and the fam­ily, of Oc­to­ber last year, the Holy Fa­ther said: “A care­ful look at the daily life of the men and women of to­day im­me­di­ately shows the need for a ro­bust in­jec­tion of fam­ily spirit ev­ery­where. In fact, the style of re­la­tions – civil, eco­nomic, ju­ridi­cal, pro­fes­sional, of ci­ti­zen­ship – seems very ra­tio­nal, for­mal, or­ga­nized but also very ‘de­hy­drated,’ arid, anony­mous. At times it be­comes un­bear­able. Al­though it wishes to be in­clu­sive in its ways, in re­al­ity it aban­dons an in­creas­ingly greater num­ber of peo­ple to lone­li­ness and re­jec­tion. We could say that to­day fam­i­lies are one of the most im­por­tant nets for the mis­sion of Peter and the Church. This is not a net that makes us prison­ers. On the con­trary, it frees us from the evil waters of aban­don­ment and in­dif­fer­ence, which drown many hu­man be­ings in the sea of lone­li­ness and in­dif­fer­ence. Fam­i­lies know well the dig­nity of feel­ing them­selves chil­dren and not slaves or strangers, or just a num­ber on an iden­tity card”.

Fr Mario At­tard OFM Cap Marsa

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