Culture Talk - May 2004

The Gospel Message and Image De-sensitisation

Photograph of 100 year old Sister Winefride, one of the founding sisters of Dolgellau Carmel.

Not so long ago, I had the joy of sharing one of my favourite videos with a beautiful community of Carmelite nuns in the North of England. During the Octave of Easter and Christmas they allow themselves a video afternoon or two to pass away a few hours of light entertainment. For such a time, I innocently passed on to them a film which I thought was un-offensive (apart from the odd minor image or two). It was what you might describe as a modern day “family entertainment” film.

The Sisters were charitably polite when returning the film after they had watched it. It was clear from our subsequent and gentle conversation that perhaps my choice was a little ill thought out.

What has this story got to do with culture you might ask?

This story came to mind again this month as my eyes glanced over the newspapers depicting horrific images of torture and abuse, allegedly at the hands of British and American troops, to Iraqi detainees. They are images which have shocked the world over, and real or not, do much to undermine the good name of those many thousands of decent and honourable men and women in our armed services. Photograph of a pile of newspapers

At first the images repulsed and sickened me, but after the third and fourth day of exposure my eyes, heart and mind, began to be

de-sensitised to the horror of what lay before me.

How true it is that in our own lives, in our own culture, we can become de-sensitised in so many ways to suffering, through the images we are exposed to? Pictures of torture, death and abuse can become common place and mundane to us. We can fall into the, “Oh, another car bomb in Israel …….I wonder what to make for tea tonight” syndrome. I first and foremost accuse myself of this mentality.

In moments of realisation such as these, I thank God for the truth of the Gospel message found in the person of Jesus Christ. I thank God for the challenge the Gospel lays down before each one of us to ever strive to be builders and bearers of a civilisation of love. I thank God for the counter-culture the Gospel message provides us with, teaching us that suffering and abuse are something we can never become de-sensitised to, because if we do, we will have become de-sensitised to the love of Christ.

In today's culture, rife with so many images, it is the grace of God that perhaps prevents us from becoming apathetic to the needs of our fellow men and women. When people look into our eyes as followers of Jesus, as members of the Catholic community in England and Wales , may they not see reflected back at them the anger and indifference that has led to so many unnecessary deaths the world over in recent times, but may they see an irresistible purity of mind and heart.

It's for that reason, that this reflection began with the tale of videos and Carmelite nuns. As with so many faithful enclosed religious in this country, they are not exposed to the images prevalent in our modern culture. Striving to live in a hidden intimacy with God, they reflect a purity of vision and are deeply sensitive to the needs of your heart and mine. In all our callings, as with those chosen to live in the cloister, may we each be given the grace to preach the Good News to our neighbours and friends, through radiating an image of deep purity of vision, mind and heart – the presence of Christ.