One of my Christmas gifts from my husband was Pope Francis’ newest book, Let us Dream: The path to a Better Future. I just started reading it, and since I started teaching two J-term courses this week, I haven’t gotten very far. Nonetheless, here’s a tidbit.
Early on in the book, Francis identifies what he terms “three disastrous ways of escaping reality that block growth and the connection with reality, and especially the action of the Holy Spirit.” The three are narcissism, discouragement and pessimism, each of which is paralyzing.
Narcissism “takes you to the mirror to look at yourself, to center everything on you so that’s all you see.” Everything is judged with reference to the self. People are seen as objectively good if they are good to you; situations or events are bad if they don’t benefit you personally. Rather than God being at the center, the self is. It is not hard to see examples of painful narcissism in the public figures we read about every day, be they politicians, athletes or celebrities. And perhaps we can see examples in those around us, or even occasionally in ourselves.
Discouragement “leads you to lament and complain about everything so that you no longer see what is around you nor what others offer you, only what you think you’ve lost.” We certainly see that in people’s reaction to COVID and other hardships. But when we only see what we’ve lost, we are blinded to all the gifts that are around us – even during the pandemic.
Pessimism “is like a door you shut on the future and the new things it can hold.” Like discouragement, it focuses only on the negative and keeps us from hope.
Francis suggests that each of the three is “in the end about preferring the illusions that mask reality rather than discovering all we might be able to achieve. They are siren voices that make you a stranger to yourself.”
How do we fight against such tendencies when they arise? – because, let’s face it, each of us is susceptible to the pull or one or another of them. Francis says simply that “to act against them, you have to commit to the small, concrete, positive actions you can take, whether you’re sowing hope or working for justice.”
Let us do precisely that, asking ourselves what small, concrete, positive actions we can take in the name of hope and promoting justice.