Let us be open to ‘true rest’

I still remember one of my visits to a poor village. There was no electricity, running water, cell phones or TV!

The village gave us a warm welcome, filled with music, singing and dancing. Everyone was present, including the village chiefs. All of us gathered around a magnificent tree. The children and young people followed me around joyfully and, despite not knowing my language, they listened to me and tried to speak to me. They tried to repeat what I was saying, and smiled even though we didn’t understand each other’s words.

What was most outstanding was the attention each of them paid during a conversation: their eyes intensely fixed on the person who was speaking. It was as if everyone wanted to absorb every word that was said. What great respect for the one speaking!

The gifts I received during that visit were not material things; they were the time spent together, the smiles, the music, the laughter, the embrace, the looks and the attention with which they listened to me. I treasure all of that! Those gifts celebrate the maximum expression of the human heart: sharing and experiencing love.

Despite the material poverty, I found an incredible richness in their faces because they knew how to smile, enjoy each other’s company and share moments together. Although financially poor, being open to others made them truly rich at heart.

In contrast, on another occasion, I found myself sharing an elevator ride with a young adult and I greeted him. He did not respond as he was completely engrossed in his cell phone and, even though he had a free hand to wave hello, his gaze continued fixed on his device. I think I went completely unnoticed; it seemed as if I didn’t exist! His face was completely frozen in his world - with no apparent need for neighbor. Instead of joy, it reflected loneliness.

What a contrast! We’ve allowed technology to isolate us and make us believe that we don’t need our neighbor! We’ve let technology create an artificial world where our innate need to share with other human beings has been masked by connecting virtually to others through social networks, and where the music of the spoken word has been silenced. As a result, the smile has vanished from our lips and our ability to truly listen has disappeared.

There are many rich and developed countries, but in them there is an enormous poverty in the hearts of many, and this makes them incapable of encountering others, of sharing experiences with others. In countries like this, technology cancels humanity and makes it disappear, allowing society to be frozen gradually inside the virtual “cloud”, without any real points of reference. These countries and cultures are disappearing, absorbed in a world that does not exist – a mirage that is taken as reality which, like a vacuum, robs humanity of its dignity, cooling hearts and erasing smiles.

There are also many countries that are materially poor, but humanly speaking very rich: truly alive and full of joy. People there are free to smile and free to share. There, the spoken word is music to the ears because it is shared, listened to and valued. There, living in community and sharing are the essence of life! In countries like these, hearts are connected to the hearts of other people through the reality of spending time with others, and not through the virtual “cloud.”

To value life and participate in community life, we need a free heart and a listening ear. In this way, communities are rooted in the love of God: in the listening and encountering others.

We’re neither tokens nor numbers; we are people with hearts and faces who need each other. We’re created by and for love, God, not by Google or Apple, etc. We don’t have chips in our memory; we have hearts made of flesh. When we encounter our neighbor, we encounter the love of God; there we find Jesus, and in him, we find the reason for being and for living.

We’re in the summer season; a time for vacation from schools and study. Why don’t we give our hearts a vacation from social networks and the virtual “cloud,” to have real encounters with our neighbor where we can share joys, smiles, stories, and also sorrows? A real encounter with our neighbor implies making space for others in our heart; it implies opening our hearts and ears to listen, and using our voice to speak with sincerity.

All of us need a vacation: a vacation from the technology that separates us from one another – a technology that doesn’t let our hearts be free. A community only forms when people’s hearts are free; without free hearts, all institutions, starting with the family, begin to disappear. Let us open ourselves to true rest, where the reality of the encounter with our neighbor puts a smile on our lips and fills our heart with the love of Jesus!