Australian society is fast becoming a hedonistic and selfish culture, and one that does not satisfy the human heart. So what is life really about? Archbishop Mark Coleridge shares his thoughts.
ONE of the strange things about a place like Australia is that we have so much, but so many people are so unhappy.
It was once said that we live in a society that is deeply and dangerously bored, and that’s true – but why would we be bored?
We’ve got big houses to live in, big cars to drive, places to go for holidays, too much to eat, too much to drink – we should be the happiest and least bored people who’ve ever trod the planet.
But here we are in fact in a country that has a surfeit of riches, but we find ourselves often in the grip of a boredom and an unhappiness and you’ve only got to look at suicide rates, even among the young, to see the truth of what I’m saying.
All of this says that surfeit, having too much, is not something that satisfies the human heart, because that kind of world closes me in on myself, so that the twin of surfeit, having too much, is a kind of selfishness.
And again, that selfishness, can bring what looked to be short-term victories, but is an ultimate defeat for the human being.
So why are we bored? Why are we unhappy?
Because deep down having too much and being too much about me is never enough to satisfy the human heart.
In fact, it is going to destroy the human heart.
Pope Francis has been named the Person of the Year, not because he’s done anything very dramatic, in fact most of what he’s done has been refreshingly ordinary, given that he’s the pope.
But one of the things he is saying in ways that people can understand and in ways that they like, is that having too much and being too closed in upon myself is never going to be enough.
He points the way to more – he doesn’t bash us over the head with that teaching, but he points the way to more – saying to us and the whole world that a certain simplicity is required if the human heart is to be satisfied, a simplicity of life that we see in someone like St Francis of Assisi.
That’s what it means to be a human being – not to have too much, but if anything, to have less; less is more.
So not surfeit, but simplicity.
And the other thing that the Pope is saying in ways that are simple but deep, is that selfishness is never the way forward – it’s a kind of a prison, and there’s no freedom in that.
The only way out of that prison, the only way of freedom therefore, is self-sacrifice.
The more I give myself away, the more I will find my true self.
So what is life about?
Strangely perhaps, it is not just in Australia, but in every place and society, it is about finding our way to a deep simplicity and to a life of self-sacrifice.
Surfeit and selfishness might lead to pleasure, but pleasure is never quite enough.
What we need is joy, and the way to joy is simplicity and self-sacrifice.
Let me read you some words that the Pope has written to us recently.
“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures and a blunted conscience.
“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.
“God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt and the desire to do good fades.
“This is a very real danger for believers too.
“Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless.
“That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us.”
Those words of Pope Francis hit the nail on the head when we ask the question, “What is life all about?”