Year C

32nd Sunday of Year C

In many ways I am coming more and more to the conclusion that we live in an age of isolation, especially in our modern Western and brilliantly technological societies. There is a great paradox in this since with the communication revolution that is also a characteristic of our time never before have we been so connected to one another.  If we are as connected to one another as never before how can we be suffering from such isolation?

This, indeed, is a critical question. Yet, the symptoms of isolation which mark our current social experience are all around us.  Tanveer Ahmed wrote some time ago:

“Modern technology is vastly increasing our connectivity, such that we are in touch with more people than ever.  A Canadian social scientist, Barry Wellman, calculates that the average person has 250 ties to friends and relatives.

But the massive previously unmet need for psychological services suggest [sic] these connections are not of the quality that are providing fulfillment for many people.  In reality, we seem to be more alone than ever.”[1]

In this respect, Hugh Mackay, the Australian social researcher, adroitly comments that in the midst of a new revolution there is a temptation to confuse data transfer with human communication. As he says,

“It’s easy, but wrong, to assume that because I’ve sent you some data and you’ve sent some back, that is an alternative to what Gates calls “direct interaction.”  It’s not an alternative: it’s a different process altogether.  Email (or text, or whatever’s next) can never do the whole job of communication because the human stuff – the emotions, the nuances, the things you’d normally convey through tone of voice, rate of speech, posture, gesture, eye movements – is all lost.

So the great irony of the IT revolution is that when it comes to the subtlety of our exchanges with each other, we are being conditioned to settle for much less than pre-revolutionary generations had to work with. More and more data:  less and less communication.” [2]  

None of this is to negate the undeniable and brilliant benefits of the IT revolution with the myriad possibilities that it opens up for us.  Yet, they do underscore that connection does not, of itself, imply communication.  Somehow, we have confused connection with communication. The two are not the same thing.  Subsequently we learn of the new anxiety disorders particularly emerging in young people. “Twitter rage, social network exclusion anxiety, and nomophobia (a fear of not having a functional mobile phone) are not uncommon in young people,” observes the adolescent psychologist, Michael Carr Gregg.[3]  Join to these the disorders recently identified as textaphrenia (hearing texts of feeling mobile phones vibrate when it hasn’t, constantly checking mobile phones to see if a message has arrived), textiety (the anxiety teenagers feel with they haven’t received  a text or when they are unable to send texts such that they feel like they have no friends and over-analyze why people don’t reply) and post-traumatic text disorder (physical and mental injuries sustained while texting and feelings of depression when no one contacts us).[4]  

We live in an age deeply concerned about the prospect of isolation because we are feeling increasingly isolated. This anxiety is further exacerbated by the increasing social experience of people living alone. In Australia, the number of single households has dramatically increased.  For the first time, the majority of Australians are unmarried.   Underneath these kinds of figures and below the adolescent anxiety about which I have been referring. is a pain:  a pain born of the hunger for relationship but often afraid of the risk.  We see a break down in the way in which people discover and enjoy community – a way of being in relationship that the social networking capabilities of the IT revolution cannot adequately address.  

The truth is – our truth is – is that we are made for communion.  We are most human when we live in the experience of communion with one another; we experience ourselves dehumanized when we are isolated from one another.  Communion is life; isolation is death.

This is underscored by the perspective of our faith in which we realize that communion is our origin and our destiny.  I believe this is the truth which lies at the heart of the gospel we hear today.  In part it is about resurrection.  But it also speaks of what we are resurrected to.  We are resurrected into the experience of communion with one another in which we will be fully human, and indeed know what it is to be divine for God in God’s own self is Communion.  This is what we understand by the Mystery of God as Trinity, a communion of persons made one in and through their relationship with one another.

This Communion, which is our destiny, we glimpse now. We glimpse it now in the sacrament of marriage ‑ a partnership through which the Communion of God’s very life becomes manifest in our midst.  That which we glimpse now, however, comes to perfection in our resurrection when not only the communion we enjoy now will be freed to be fully itself, but when it also discovers itself indeed in a communion with all others and with the entire creation.

In that destiny of life, our fear of isolation will dissolve, and those factors which work currently to our fragmentation will be overcome.  In the experience of communion we will love with total freedom. We will be fully alive.

[1] Tanveer Ahmed, “Hundreds of friends can’t cure loneliness,” The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 February 2010, page 9.

[2] Hugh Mackay, “The technology disconnect,” The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 August 2007.  See also Hugh Mackay, Advance Australia – Where?, 99-136; Peter Munro, “Lost in Cyber Space.” The Sunday Examiner Magazine, 29 November 2009, pages 10-11.

[3] See “Column8” The Sydney Morning Herald 19-20 June 2008, page 22.

[4] Stephen Fenech, “A mobile monster: Teenage text addicts suffer depression and anxiety,” The Daily Telegraph Wednesday 30 June 2008, page 7.

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