Antidotes to Today's Distracted and Restless Societies

How Papal Teaching and a 19th Century Painter Can Help Us Rediscover Real Values and Sense of the Infinite

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The constraint of time, in a society obsessed by a sort of perennial state of agitation, extreme digitalization and apparently condemned to a fruitless distraction, seems – as Pope Francis stated in his Message for the World Communication Day – to have diverted the gaze of the humanity away from the fundamental necessity of a “constructive dialogue” to which a deeper attention, common sense, comprehension, silence and patient listening are essential:

We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm.  This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen.  We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us.  People only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated, but know that they are truly accepted.  If we are genuinely attentive in listening to others, we will learn to look at the world with different eyes and come to appreciate the richness of human experience as manifested in different cultures and traditions.  We will also learn to appreciate more fully the important values inspired by Christianity, such as the vision of the human person, the nature of marriage and the family, the proper distinction between the religious and political spheres, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, and many others.[1]

This “praise of slowness“ is nothing else that a return to the roots of the human essence in which time is measured not only through scientific instruments but also by the natural passage of the seasons, the common and providential sharing of history and the active participation in the liturgical solemnities. This aspect is clearly evident in everyday life – perhaps, too burdened with imposed rhythms and paralysed by repetitiveness of unnecessary rituals[2] – that it is not more able to control or successfully manage a never-ending series of events:

In light of the delirium of doing, of getting excited, of talking, it is necessary to get into, on the contrary, an oasis of tranquillity, of slowness, of calmness. The eagerness – which gnaws our soul – creates people affected by stress, unsatisfied, numb to their conscience and to others.[3]

Quiet, calm and silence[4] are a primary source of wisdom and prudence, which are faithful companions in adversity and dangers as well as in the little daily troubles because, as Sirach teaches:

Do not take on a great amount of business;

if you multiply your interests, you are bound to suffer for it;

hurry as fast as you can, yet you will never arrive, nor will you escape by running away.

Some people work very hard at top speed, only to find themselves falling further behind.[5]

In the Sacred Scriptures such references are numerous and frequent but the contemporary man seems to have forgotten them, distracted in a restless race – very often without a real purpose. The re-evaluation in theological  literature of the “way of beauty[6] has the advantage of reproducing an original philosophical approach to propose again, through  not only an “aesthetic journey”, the fundamental questions of the existence in a real perspective:

It may have happened on some occasion that you paused before a sculpture, a picture, a few verses of a poem or a piece of music that you found deeply moving, that gave you a sense of joy, a clear perception, that is, that what you beheld was not only matter, a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, a collection of letters or an accumulation of sounds, but something greater, something that ‘speaks’, that can touch the heart, communicate a message, uplift the mind. A work of art is a product of the creative capacity of the human being who in questioning visible reality, seeks to discover its deep meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colour and sound. Art is able to manifest and make visible the human need to surpass the visible, it expresses the thirst and the quest for the infinite. Indeed it resembles a door open on to the infinite, on to a beauty and a truth that go beyond the daily routine. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and of the heart, impelling us upward.[7]

The history of arts offers many analogies – as it is clearly shown in this famous Angelus of Benedict XVI – and there are artists which, with their works, can better introduce that „thirst of the Eternal“, a principal characteristics of each human being.

At the end of the 19th Century the French painter Jean-Charles Cazin became famous for having painted various landscapes at dusk in common places such as countryside and rural villages with very delicate colours trying to capture the deep meaning of the absolute and the beauty of the infinite over the inescapable passage of time. That instant, full of references and metaphysical projections, is still called “Cazin’s Hour[8] (l’heure Cazin).

In his painting style there is a valuable attempt to go beyond the simple “narration of the space”: it employs a pedagogical approach designed to generate in the viewer, in a gentle and kind way, an original amazement and the existential question on the meaning of life:

In the manner of Cazin’s painting we never remark rough impasto, the violence of the palette knife, or the caprices of the undisciplined brush. The aspect of his pictures is always attractive, and their suave and distinguished tone is often absolutely fascinating; the details are subordinate to the general unity; the picture is one and harmonious. M. Cazin’s dream of life is sweet, tender, full of compassion[9].

In a moment of silence and contemplation through the signs of beauty in the simplicity or the harshness of daily life, Cazin seems to invite us to enjoy once again the real values reconstructing a virtuous cycle of mutual understanding, selfless solidarity and reciprocal respect:  

Cazin can be described as a painter who thinks. [He], on the other hand, may be called a realist. Completely cultered and familiar with the legends and poems of ages, Cazin’s faculty of pictorial conception seems to be aroused to activity only when it comes into contact with reality. He sees an actual scene in nature, and then his imagination interprets it and adorns it with some eternal symbol of compassion, of charity, of resignation, or of simple human sentiment. Constantly interrogating nature, incessantly recording notes of reality, making drawing after drawing and study after study, indefatigable in the court he pays to his mistress nature, Cazin the painter and limner is the prodigiously skilful auxiliary to Cazin the poet, the man of wide culture, the grand artist of strong, patient and delicate soul.[10]


[1] Francis, Message for the World Communication Day, 1 June 2014

[2] “When man begins to become a problem for himself, the problematic man defines the self either by the possession he has or the profession he engages in. This definition is synthetic, however, because it is an artificial attempt at injecting meaning in life through a venue that is outside of one’s control. This person make the mistake of believing that life can have existential significance through venues that are not tied to our existence as human being. By raising object to the level of what is existentially meaningful, the problematic man can classify, systematize, order and so, he believes – exert control over what constitutes his identity. He does not realize that when he treats his identity as an object, he separates himself from meaningful existence. The problematic man transforms from a human person to a thing that can only experience himself as
an object, or a statement or an answer: “I am X.”” G. Graper Hernandez, Gabriel Marcel’s Ethics of Hope: Evil, God and Virtue, Continuum International, London 2011, p. 6.

[3] G. Ravasi, “Elogio della Lentezza”, Avvenire, 15 May 2004. (Our Translation).

[4] “There is a deeper core that is utterly free and vast and silent, that no thought or feeling appears and disappears in it. This realization that there is some deeper, silent core that grounds all our mental process grows as we prepare to respond to these riddles of distraction with silence and not chatter […].” M. Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2006, p. 87.

[5] Ecclus. 11: 10-11.

[6] Cfr. Pontificio Consiglio della Cultura,  La « Via Pulchritudinis», cammino di evangelizzazione e di formazione umana. Atti della Nona Seduta Pubblica delle Pontificie Accademie (Vaticano, 9 novembre 2004). Città del Vaticano, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2005

[7] Benedict XVI, General Audience in Castel Gandolfo, 31 August 2011.

[8] Cfr. S. Lemoine (ed.), De Puvis de Chavanne à Matisse et Picasso : vers l’art moderne, Flammarion, Paris 2002.

[9] T. Child, “Some Modern French Painters”, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, vol. 80- Issue 480, May 1890, Harper and Bros, New York 1890, p. 128.

[10]Ibid., p. 131.

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Giovanni Patriarca

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