Our time’s influenza

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Influenza has, by now, reaching its peak. Many people that I come across, and rightly so, keep warning me to pay attention and take every precaution against it.

Their well-intentioned concern has a sound solid basis. According to some studies, the flu’s destructive consequences are decreased appetite, fatigue, irritability, loss of interest, impaired attention and memory. Other medical studies say that the flu is a serious respiratory illness that is caused by viruses. Thus, its immediate symptoms can involve fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat nasal congestion, and body aches. Let us not forget that a simple influenza virus can cause serious illness and death in people both young and old, and, furthermore, to those people who are suffering from hidden health conditions.

Due to the seriousness of such consequences, great efforts are being made in prevention campaigns. To begin with, people who have contracted the flu are highly encouraged to stay home. Moreover, people in general are advised to properly wash their hands and cough with etiquette. So, staying at home when sick, cover coughs and sneezes, washing hands with soap or water, and avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth, are also excellent ways of living in practice the commandment: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Mark 12:31). When you think, at least for a second about the deleterious effects that the flu can have on yourself and, in all responsibility, try to save others from contracting it, it does not become all that difficult to believe how loving others in this way qualifies as the living of the second part of that commandment that greater than itself does not exist (see Mark 12:31). Additionally, let us not forget that those who experience worsening flu symptoms should seek medical attention before their condition starts deteriorating.

Spiritually speaking, we too nowadays are assailed by a kind of spiritual influenza that, when we subscribe to it in one way or another, brings on us all those dreadful discomforts that the flu vows to cause us. Like the influenza virus, this spiritual influenza is so close to us to the point that it is easily contracted practically from the minutest of situations. Its despicable virus has a name: indifference!

The Bible presents to us, at least, 23 instances where the spiritual flu of indifference is dealt with. To begin with, according to God’s Word, indifference means lack of listening. Instead of entering into the world of the other person to listen, take in, dialogue and accompany the person in question, indifference wipes away listening, dialoguing and accompanying by preventing them from happening. Indifference is calamitous. It impairs our humanity. The book of the prophet Jeremiah, precisely in its fifth chapter, says: Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not (Jer 5:21). The catastrophic consequence of such a foolish way of being and acting is to be found in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel when Jesus said aguishly for the indifferent: For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart,
and turn for me to heal them.’ (Matt 13:15). How tragic that the Son of God is pitiful of those who infected with the miserable virus of indifference!

Being a toxic way of living, indifference is a silent killer of love and solidarity. Thank God, the Almighty has, is and will be raising many acclaimed enemies of indifference. Among its many ferocious enemies, one surely stands out: Pope Francis. In fact, this archenemy of indifference have made numerous reflections and interventions regarding indifference. A tangible example is the catechesis he gave on 17 October 2018:

“Man has a noble, very sensitive life, and has a hidden ‘I’ no less important than his physical being. Indeed, an inopportune phrase is enough to offend the innocence of a child. A cold gesture can suffice to wound a woman. To break a young person’s heart, it suffices to rebuff his confidence. To annihilate a man, it suffices to ignore him. Indifference kills. It is like telling the other person: ‘you are dead to me’, because you have killed him in your heart. Not loving is the first step to killing”.

For Pope Francis, indifference is countered by “the capacity for dialogue, to build bridges instead of walls. This is the time for dialogue, not for the defense of opposition and rigidity. I invite you to face ‘the challenge of finding and sharing the mystique of living together, of mingling and encounter, of embracing and supporting one another, of stepping into this flood tide which, while chaotic, can become a genuine experience of fraternity, a caravan of solidarity, a sacred pilgrimage”.

The recent political intervention by the Maltese authorities to end an 18-day ordeal of stranded migrants is surely a tangible sign of the healing effect of solidarity. Let us be inflamed and led by this contagious spirit which makes us real Maltese and Christians.

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