A couple of days ago, following the news about the Holy Father’s visit to L’Aquila, on the occasion of the anniversary of the tragic earthquake of 2009, I was struck by the words with which Father Bergoglio observed that there can be no real reconstruction if there is no it is spiritual reconstruction.
It occurred to me then to ask myself what I do or what I can do to join this reconstruction project hoped for by the Pope.
I am sure that Pope Francis, in his statement, did not want to refer exclusively to Christian practice in a ritual sense. The Holy Father is indeed the supreme head of the Catholic Church, but he is, without a doubt, a man of miraculous spirituality and too intelligent and modern, even with his conservative rigor for the things that really matter, to reduce spirituality to a praxis.
I therefore tried to find for myself, stimulated by those words, a plausible explanation of the term spirituality, because I believe that only by understanding what it is I can then realize if the sense of the spirit is really lost or demolished, and therefore feel the need , perhaps urgently, to look for it and rebuild it. I have found that, in fact, I do not often reflect on spirituality, knowing full well, moreover, that I have not dedicated myself to the rites of the Catholic Church for some time. I live a bit like this, catching the alternating moods of times that are not easy for the human being, especially in a society that seems to be getting closer and closer to the limit of its progress.
In this reflection prompted by the Pope’s words, I remembered the elderly doorman of an apartment building in which I lived for a short time while I was attending a course in the capital more than ten years ago, on the premise of a new post.
I remember him as an old person, but come to think of it he wasn’t much older than I am today. He was a meek man, hard worker, talkative enough to reserve a joke for each condominium. In his expert simplicity, after many years of guarding the elegant condominium in the city center, the nice caretaker had learned to comfort people. He did it with a smile, with an appreciation, with a greeting. In short, the nice friend had a gesture of consideration for everyone.
Often, returning, I stopped to have a chat with him. Together we commented on the events of the day, the vicissitudes of politics or the league and, frequently, the excesses of a beautiful, sly and pandering city as only Rome can be.
One day, we fell on the discourse of life and, with this, on that of death which, according to the binary logic with which our brain tends to categorize events, spontaneously turns out to me as the opposite of what I am. Black and white, hot and cold, life and death, being and not being: guided by the ephemeral criterion of opposites, I use this unfair tool to shape my judgment on facts, even on the most important ones. From the judgment then derive the decisions and the actions, and with them the load of effects that follows.
The binary logic of opposites therefore places death, even unconsciously, as the opposite of what one is. In the absence of in-depth analysis, it is more likely to be a state of non-being, that is, a non-state. It is a thought that we tend to dismiss, while the dogma of later life, professed by religions, often does not convince us. By doing so, we live more and more unconsciously the fear of death of which we are, in reality, frightened witnesses through the news.
Now, Roberto, as the goalkeeper was called, seemed to me a character always waiting for something. Attentive to others, with his simple gestures, he actually seemed to have sunk into a perennial state of detachment, a state that revealed calm to me and, in some manifestations, even wisdom.
It is therefore impossible not to explore the personal intent that animated him with respect to living, certain that I could learn something from him. He explained to me that in his childhood his education was also to visit the dead. Yes, the recently dead, before the funeral sacrament and burial, usually in living rooms with entrances marked in mourning. The rite of that ceremony wanted him to stop in front of the coffin covered with a tulle veil and to say some prayers. In some cases, if the dead man was important, it happened to proceed to the recitation of the rosary. I myself, who am not much younger than Roberto, remember these things as a child very well.
The thesis of the dear concierge, in narrating these circumstances of his childhood, was that education in spirituality, and with it in the meaning of life and its apparent opposite, began precisely from taking note of death. Not in a dramatic way, even if it could happen from time to time (in these cases we avoided bringing the children), but as a natural conclusion of the earthly journey. Of course, the next prospect remained uncertain, and anything could benefit a child’s understanding except the religious dogma of the resurrection. We pretended to understand, when in reality we just wanted the procedure to end up returning to play. Yet, with that indirect testimony of death, exposed as a natural fact, one was educated in spirituality and in life.
Roberto told me that this awareness of his, to which childhood rites made him accustomed, had placed him in a neutral position with respect to living. When he used this term, “neutral,” I couldn’t help but ask him what he meant by that expression of non-judgment. He then evoked the absence of true passions, as if there was never anything that could heat him beyond a certain mental and body temperature, he explained to me the concept of temperance, and therefore that of the consideration of the other, and discussed with a certain eloquence of the definition of impermanence of objects, of time, even of feelings. In him I found a philosopher who could explain to me, now I understand, spirituality.
We live in a society increasingly attached to the ephemeral sense of possession, a sense that goes beyond itself to the point of becoming an alibi to destroy the other, as if death, sooner or later, did not concern us, to the point of being able to even cause it to others for the logic of hegemony and presumed justice. We do not understand that nothing is forever, at least according to the canons that companies, today strongly guided by economics and finance, would like us to believe, reaching out as they are towards a development that is paradoxically becoming a denial of progress.
Then yes, Pope Francis is right, it will not help to reconstruct in the absence of spirituality which, as Roberto said, is the meaning of life and the earthly impermanence of the latter. Then I would like to be like the dear porter of the Roman condominium: a generous observer of life, without turbulent passions and only animated by my duties. Above all, in the first place, the sacred obligation of considering the other.