Chaplain's Comments

'Nothing lasts forever and most things don't last long', says Laurence Freeman, director for Christian Meditation, in his reflection on the life of Eduardo Gonsalves Ribeiro, Governor of the new state of Amazonas in the 1900's. Ribeiro dreamed the dream of turning the capital Manaus into the Paris of the Tropics. With the Brazilian rubber boom in the late nineteenth century, Ribeiro cleared the rampant jungle to make space for grand public buildings, parks and garden, racecourses, bullrings and fine restaurants.

The euphoria of the rubber boom, like that of the City of London in the Nineties, often went insane. The rubber barons, not unlike the robber bankers, lit their cigars with hundred dollar bills, watered their horses on champagne and sent their laundry to Paris. Their wives sweltered in fur coats in the opera house built of materials imported from Scotland and Italy.

All this extravagance comes from a white sticky liquid that oozes easily from a cut in the bark of a tree in the jungle. The indigenous people had long used its elastic properties, but Charles Goodyear refined the production process and gave the world the rubber tyres that it runs on today. True to their noble history of Patriotic piracy, the down fall of the Manaus dream came from the English.

In 1867, Henry Wickham, later knighted for his mission, on instruction from the director Kew Gardens, smuggled out seeds of the 'Hevea Brasiliensis' rubber tree. By 1920, 90 per cent of the world's rubber came from British plantations in Asia.

Ribeiro saw the end of Amazonia coming near which did lead him to hear the voices screaming in his head. As he took his desperate life, you must wonder whether his hollow self-confidence and hubris must have led him to be intoxicated with the elixir of eternal success. Nothing lasts forever and most things don't last long.

The jungle and the longer sweeps of history repeat the only immortal lesson: that life's cycles depend on nadirs, bottom points and the relief periods of dissolution for it to flow in. Our moments of powerlessness in the life process are the source of the fountain of creation, like the point at land's end where river becomes waterfall as it drops hundreds of metre to a new channel. Maybe Rebeiro had, like most of us, moved too far from the jungle or the tall karri forests, to hear its lessons.

Jesus in our Gospel this holiday weekend was conscious of destructive forces around him and is aware that it comes from within and without us. Jesus offers us ways to stop doing destructive things that prevent us from getting closer to God, others and ourselves.

Habits are unusual things. There are good habits, like saying 'Please' and 'Thank you'. There are habits that can start out well intentioned enough, but end becoming obsessions, like caring for one's physical fitness. And there are habits that bring moments for relief or let us off the hook- like lying, dishonesty, and stealing - but always end up being destructive.

Compulsive behaviour, however, is of a very different order. Gambling, drinking, shopping, smoking, violence, work, sex, eating, drugs, pornography, money, Internet and the IPhone are fairly common modern manifestations of compulsive behaviour. These problems present deeper issues related to self-esteem, personal history, desire, fantasy and even genetic disposition.

Jesus underlines that we have to stop our destructive behaviour and offers three pieces of practical advice so we can. First, do whatever helps, to attend to those deeper issues and piece ones lives back. Secondly, accept help. None of us can battle through life carrying all our burdens on our own. Our family and friends are not mind readers and we need to seek our wise counsel and follow it wisely. The help and support we receive could be like the cup of refreshing water Jesus tells us about today.

Finally, habitual and compulsive behaviour always has a pattern. Only when we regularly examine ourselves to see where, when, how and with whom we are most likely to walk away from God's love can we work out why we do it and change the pattern.

Live simply so that others may simply live! Could be our watchword for these holidays where we could see through the commercial static of manipulation and deceit that says that the consumer society is the good life. Ultimately, holidays are graced moments about taking time to think and finding clarity; it's about discernment and deliberation. It about seeing our consumer society for what it is. One person who sees clearly is the Dalai Lama, in his book 'Ethics for the New Millennium', sees that our values have been distorted:

(The rich) are so caught up with the idea of acquiring still more that they make no room for anything else in their lives. In their absorption, they actually lose the dream of happiness, which riches were to have provide. As a result, they are constantly tormented, torn between doubt about what might happen and the hope of gaining more, and plagued with mental and emotional suffering… so many feel uneasy and dissatisfied with their lives. They experience feelings of isolation; then follows depression.

Simplicity then is about taking control over our life and resisting the forces of the dominant society that tell us to climb our way to the top, to be a winner, regardless of consequences, Being a winner does not necessarily make you happy! And in fact, it most likely won't. Again, as Thoreau says, success is when you feel contented 'with only a sense of existence'.

Less Stuff, Less Stress, More Freedom, More Joy leads us into a Garden of Simplicity where we are invited like the disciples to look away from our own sense of distinctiveness and privilege and to be prepared to find and rejoice in goodness wherever it exists. Happy Holidays!

Fr Gaetan Pereira SJ
College Chaplain