“Disenchantment”, a “Healthy Crisis” for the Contemporary World – ZENIT – English

The “disenchantment”, which comes “almost inevitably” in old age, is “a salutary crisis”, said Pope Francis, commenting on the Old Testament book Qohelet, or Ecclesiastes, in which the author ironically questions the meaning of life and the vanity of human things.

During the general audience of this Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, Pope Francis continued his reflection on the theme of old age: “if the elderly, who have now seen everything, keep their passion for justice, then there is hope for love, and also for faith,” the pope said.

The “going through this crisis” of disenchantment is “crucial” for the contemporary world, the pope explained: “a culture that claims to measure and manipulate everything also ends up producing a collective demoralization of meaning, a demoralization of love, a demoralization also of the good”.

The pope castigated the modern search for truth, “deprived of sensitivity and deprived of morals”, “attempted to totally get rid of the passion for justice”. Qohelet, he observed, was “already unmasking” this “delirium of omniscience”, this “disease of the soul” which “suddenly discovers the vanity of knowledge without faith or morals, the illusion of truth without justice”.

The elderly, the pope concluded, “rich in wisdom and humor, do so much good to the young! They preserve them from the temptation of a sad worldly knowledge devoid of the wisdom of life. »

Here is the official translation of today’s catechesis.

Integral catechesis on old age

Dear brothers and sisters, hello !

In our reflection on old age – we continue to reflect on old age – today we come to the book of Qoheleth, another treasure of the Bible. On first reading, this short work is striking and perplexing with its famous refrain: “Tout est vanité”, tout est vanité: the refrain that comes and goes; everything is vanity, everything is “fog”, everything is “smoke”, everything is “empty”. It is surprising to find these expressions, which question the meaning of existence, in Sacred Scripture. In reality, the continuous oscillation of Qoheleth between sense and nonsense is the ironic representation of a knowledge of life detached from the passion for justice, guaranteed by the judgment of God. And the conclusion of the Book indicates the way out of the test: “fear God and keep his commandments. Everything is there for the man. (12.13). Here is the advice to solve this problem.

Faced with a reality which, at times, seems to us to welcome all opposites, reserving for them despite everything the same destiny, which is to end in nothingness, the path of indifference can also appear to us as the only remedy for a painful disillusionment. Questions such as these arise within us: Have our efforts changed the world? Is anyone able to argue the difference between right and wrong? It seems that all this is useless: why make so much effort?

It’s a kind of negative intuition that can arise at any season of life, but there’s no doubt that old age makes this rendezvous with disenchantment almost inevitable. Disenchantment comes in old age. And so, the resistance of old age to the demoralizing effects of this disenchantment is decisive: if the elderly, who have now seen it all, keep their passion for justiceso there is hope for loveand also for faith. And for the contemporary world, going through this crisis has become crucial, a salutary crisis, why? Because a culture that claims to measure everything and manipulate everything also ends up producing a collective demoralization of meaning, a demoralization of love, a demoralization also of the good.

This demoralization robs us of all will to act. A so-called “truth”, which only limits itself to cataloging the world, also catalogs its indifference towards opposites and delivers them, without redemption, to the flow of time and the destiny of nothingness. In this form – clad in scientificity, but also bereft of sensitivity and bereft of morality – the modern search for truth has attempted to completely rid itself of the passion for justice. She no longer believes in her destiny, her promise, or her redemption.

For our modern culture, which would like to hand over practically everything to the exact knowledge of things, the appearance of this new cynical reason – which sums up knowledge and irresponsibility – is a very harsh blowback. Indeed, the knowledge that exempts us from morality seems at first sight a source of freedom, of energy, but quickly turns into a paralysis of the soul.

Qohèleth, with his irony, already unmasks this fatal temptation of an omnipotence of knowledge – a “delirium of omniscience” – which engenders an impotence of the will. The monks of the most ancient Christian tradition had precisely identified this disease of the soul, which suddenly reveals the vanity of knowledge without faith or morality, the illusion of truth without justice. They called him ” acedia “. And it is one of the temptations of everyone, even the old, but of everyone. It’s not just laziness: no, it’s much more. It is not simply a depression: no. Rather, acedia is surrender to knowledge of the world without passion for justice or consistent commitment.

The void of meaning and force opened up by this knowledge, which rejects all ethical responsibility and all attachment to the real good, is not without drawbacks. It not only deprives the will of good of energy: in return, it gives free rein to the aggressiveness of the forces of evil. They are the forces of a reason gone mad, made cynical by an excess of ideology. In fact, with all of our progress and prosperity, we have truly become a “tired society.” Think about it: we are the society of fatigue! We were meant to produce widespread wellness and we tolerate a scientifically selective health market. We were supposed to put an insurmountable limit on peace, and we see more and more ruthless wars against defenseless people. Science is progressing, of course, and that’s a good thing. But the wisdom of life is something else entirely, and it seems to be losing steam.

Finally, this reason without affectivity and irresponsibility also deprives the knowledge of the truth of meaning and energy. It is no coincidence that our time is that of fakenews, collective superstitions and pseudo-scientific truths. It’s curious: in this culture of knowledge, of knowing all things, even of the precision of knowledge, so many sorceries have spread, but cultivated sorceries. It’s witchcraft with a certain culture but which leads you to lead a life full of superstitions: on the one hand, to advance with intelligence by knowing things to the bottom; on the other hand, the soul that needs something else and takes the path of superstitions and ends up in the register of witchcraft. Old age can learn from the ironic wisdom of Qoheleth the art of bringing to light the deceit hidden in the delusion of truth of the spirit devoid of affection for justice. Seniors, full of wisdom and humor, do so much good to young people! They preserve them from the temptation of a sad worldly knowledge devoid of the wisdom of life. And also, these old people lead the young people back to the promise of Jesus: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Mt 5,6). They are the ones who will sow hunger and thirst for justice among young people. Courage, all of us, the old ones: courage and forward! We have a very important mission in the world. But, please, we must not take refuge in this somewhat non-concrete, non-real, rootless idealism – let’s be clear: in the sorceries of life.

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“Disenchantment”, a “Healthy Crisis” for the Contemporary World – ZENIT – English

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