«Janus two-faced, silent origin of the passing year… Today avoid words and thoughts of ill omen! At this moment we must pronounce positive words on a good day” (Ovid, Fasti, 65-75). In Latin culture, the beginning of the new year was entrusted to Janus, the Italian god of beginnings and transitions (iauna: door), the father of mornings. That ancient wisdom knew that the new is deeply inscribed in the old (Janus is two-faced). We know it too, yet every time a new year begins we tenaciously hope that something better will happen, that we will be able to free ourselves from the necessity of the past and show ourselves different, that our child will be that beauty and that peace that we have not been able to become. . Hence the sense of good wishes, of blessing the time that is about to begin, because the good words spoken at the beginning have a special performative capacity, they improve what we bless, they give wings to our promises.
Thinking about our time of transition, the first word to say differently is poverty. Poverty is an essential part of everyone’s human condition. Europe, thanks above all to Christ, had generated a civilization which while fighting against poverty did not despise the poor in flesh and blood, did not curse them, because Jesus had called them “blessed” and because Francis for the “unknown wealth” of poverty he had left the other known riches. From this humanism were born hospitals, schools, pawnshops, and then the welfare state, which did not treat the poor as cursed but only as unfortunate. Today the first poverty from which the poor suffer is the lack of esteem, it is feeling considered guilty, seen only as bearers of needs and not of talents and virtues even within their poverty. Because we have forgotten that those we call “poor” lack a lot but not lack everything – and dignity is located in the difference between “everything” and “a lot”, and where reciprocity is also nourished. The last piece of welfare will be erased when we convince the last person that the poor are guilty of their own poverty.
Then there’s the work. Many words have always been said and written around work, not all of them good and true. We wrote it in the incipit of our Constitution, and we did well. But we must not forget what work really was in Italy and in the world after the war.
If it hadn’t been professors, politicians and jurists who wrote that article 1 but workers of the land, factories, construction sites, women workers in spinning mills and rice fields, they would hardly have founded the new social pact on their concrete work – work has always suffered from narratives written by non-workers. Because the words of real workers were ‘”bent backs”, “misery and hunger”, “master and servant”, “travail”. Work has almost always been an experience not too different from servitude, with the exception of a few elites of artists, craftsmen and liberal professions. The Bible, very expert on humanity before being expert on God, when it thought of work it immediately went to the forced production of bricks in Egypt.
And when those men and women wrote “Italy is a democratic republic founded on work” they looked, prophetically, at tomorrow’s work. They looked the work of their time in the eye and said to it: “Become what you are not yet, you can become it”. And it was like a prayer. Today the prophecies of the Constitution are increasingly distant, and the shadow of work returns menacingly to the horizon to humiliate the weak and the poor, the bricks of Egypt seek every day to take back the place of worthy and fair work.
Article 1 is the article of the beginning, it is the father of the morning of the day which is not yet but which has to come. Finally, spirituality. We are in an immense spiritual famine.
We have achieved extraordinary results in the “external forum” of our civilization – technology, economy, science -, but in the “internal forum” we have regressed by centuries, if not millennia. Post-modern homo sapiens is a returning spiritual illiterate. Capitalism was also born from one spirit, Christian and Biblical, then the son (capitalism) devoured his father (spirit). But without spirituality, depression becomes a global pandemic, people fail to cooperate, businesses to produce, democracy to function. It is ever more urgent that the Churches and religions leave their enclosures and their “comfort zones” of sacred consumption and social works and help the world to reconstitute a new spiritual capital. The spiritual capital it is the “home” of all the capitals of a society: without it all the others wander nomads, exposed to every danger.
To recreate spiritual capital we need a courage that does not yet exist, leaving the low cabotage of yesterday’s theological and religious certainties and advancing into the open and unknown sea of new narratives, because the ones we have are too tied to symbolic registers pre-modern and therefore incomprehensible by almost the entire population. Of course, we can be satisfied with guarding what remains, transforming faith into a mausoleum of venerated and dead things.
But we can also do much more and differently, because every faith is alive if it believes in tomorrow’s Spirit at least as much as it believed in yesterday’s. Young people are doing wonderful things. They are already writing pieces of the new spiritual capital, but they won’t do it alone. They also have a vital need for the spiritual heritage of civilizations, from which they seriously risk being excluded due to lack of adequate interpretative codes. The words, the emotions, the tears, the indignations, the hopes of their world are increasingly distant from ours. There is an urgent need for a narrative revolution of religions and spirituality: it’s time to get to work. Happy New Year!