Now for a word from South Africa, via Popes John Paul and Francis

Thanks to Rocco Palmo and his “Whispers in the Loggia” blog for teaching me the word Ubuntu.

Wikipedia defines Ubuntu as a South African word meaning human kindness. In tribute to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Palmo posted on Dec. 5 a text of remarks that Pope John Paul II (also of sainted memory) spoke to Mandela and the people of South Africa during his visit there in 1995.

“South Africa refers to itself as a “Rainbow Nation,” indicating the diversity of races, ethnic groups, languages, culture and religions which characterize it,” the Pope said as quoted by Palmo. “And you have the extremely rich concept of UBUNTU to guide you, according to the saying that “People are made people through other people.” John Paul went on to honor Mandela’s government for striving to create a fairer and more prosperous society in which people of all faiths would work together and share together, keeping alive a “flame of hope.”

Fast-forward to Dec. 10, 2013, when the word Ubuntu and the teaching that “people are made people through other people” are top-of-mind as we watch news coverage memorializing Mandela. It is good that our Pope Francis today calls all Catholics worldwide to prayer and action against the scourge of hunger. See the Loggia’s blog report on this Caritas campaign, which likewise must endure a long time, keeping hope alive.

Palmo provides the prayer being circulated for the Dec. 10 global wave of prayer, appropriate for prayers of the present and future, reminding us always that “people are made people through other people.” Ubuntu is a rich concept. I think Pope Francis would see it reflected in his flock as we pray without ceasing this call for basic human kindness, for feeding our bodies and souls:

O God, you entrusted to us the fruits of all creation so that we might care for the earth and be nourished with its bounty.

You sent us your Son to share our very flesh and blood and to teach us your Law of Love.

Through His death and resurrection, we have been formed into one human family.

Jesus showed great concern for those who had no food – even transforming five loaves and two fish into a banquet that served five thousand and many more.

We come before you, O God, conscious of our faults and failures, but full of hope, to share food with all members in this global family.

Through your wisdom, inspire leaders of government and of business, as well as all the world’s citizens, to find just, and charitable solutions to end hunger by assuring that all people enjoy the right to food.

Thus we pray, O God, that when we present ourselves for Divine Judgment, we can proclaim ourselves as “One Human Family” with “Food for All”. Amen.

 

 

This Whovian — or Whoosier? — Learned from the Doctors: The Present Isn’t Enough

The recent blockbuster episode of the brilliant BBC series “Doctor Who” got me thinking again about the danger of “presentism” in today’s world.

Did you see the episode entitled “Day of the Doctor,” in which three different reincarnations of that lovable Time Lord, Doctor Who, come together to rethink and reshape the past, present, and future? The episode, marking a 50-th anniversary celebration of the ingenious series and (according to the Wikipedia article) a tribute to generations of Doctor Who fans called Whovians (I presume in Indiana we’re called Whoosiers), presented many unforgettable images and ideas. My favorite was the notion of capturing an entire scene, nay, an entire planet, in a moment of time, inside a picture frame, where so much has already happened, so much is ready to happen, but we’re told the viewer of this brilliant 4-D “painting” in a Time Lord’s gallery can “just add time” to bring the scene to life, as one “just adds water” to Lipton’s Cup-of-Soup.

I may never look at an art gallery the same way again. Every enduring work of art, I realize, is of its own time but is somehow of all time.

The reason I bring this up is the connection of this time-freezing to the compelling notion of “presentism,” to which I was introduced by Daniel Rushkoff’s recent book, Present Shock. The word presentism is not new, but it’s very thought-provoking. Rushkoff talks about how our modern society, with its advanced technology and rapid pace of life, makes life seem like everything is happening in the present. I haven’t read enough of Rushkoff’s insights to fully understand how he analyzes this phenomenon, but it coincides with an impression I’ve had for some time. When we want everything to happen right now, or when now is the only timeframe that matters, or when we pursue the titillation of a completely immersive now, we risk forgetting or discounting the past and the future. Our imaginations and faith, used constructively, help us transcend the traps of the present moment. The past and future are gifts from God, although they also impose accountability upon us.

It has been my privilege to write a book celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Hesburgh Library and to see how the building, its people, and its role on the Notre Dame campus literally and figuratively bring past, present, and future together. This coincidence of three timeframes is the stuff of journeys and stories. It gives the Notre Dame campus its traditions, its lively celebrations of victory and discovery, and its focus on people and projects representing hope for the future.

Presentism, if I understand Rushkoff’s insights correctly (and I hope to study them more carefully in the near future!), poses a danger even as it seems to offer an alluring opportunity to live in the moment–an immensely exciting, adrenalin-charged moment–and then to move on in a series of random, disjointed, busy moments. Here’s my thought as it relates to communicating messages about society, about human life, about Notre Dame, and even about Doctor Who. I think Time Lords would agree that isolating present moments inside picture frames must be the exception, not the rule, even though those frozen scenes of potential energy are hauntingly beautiful. In everything we do, in every story we tell, we must be energized by the changing times, not mesmerized by a single moment. We Whoosiers can embrace the Doctors’ advice to embrace the learning that occurs in its own good time, from past to present to future. There can be immense energy (and human efficiency and divine grace) in the present moment, but don’t get trapped in it. Just add time.