Francis on old age and plastic surgery
Tomorrow, the Christian world celebrates one of its greatest feasts, the birth of our Lord. It is a time for remembering Him who has been the source of all our blessings and good fortunes. It is also a time for keeping in mind those who have less in life and carry a heavy burden.
Several months ago, after having lunch with friends in Makati, I passed by a bookstore and started browsing through publications on the New Arrivals shelf. One in particular caught my attention. Pope Francis, in a conversation with Italian journalist Thomas Leoncini, answers questions on many issues confronting people of all ages today. “God Is Young” is about the thoughts of a senior citizen who recently marked his 82nd birthday last Monday.
Pope Francis decided to become a priest at a young age. He was 17, and he recalls how it came about on Sept. 21, 1953. At that time, he was a student in chemistry and had a girlfriend.
“I was on my way to meet my school friends for a day in the country. September 21 is the first day of spring in Argentina and in those days there was an actual holiday dedicated to us young people. I was Catholic like my family, but prior to that day I had never thought of either the seminary or a future within the church. Maybe as a child, when I was an altar boy, but it was a tenuous thing. Walking along, I saw the open door of the parish church and something drove me to go in. I saw a priest coming toward me. I immediately felt a sudden desire to confess. I don’t know what exactly happened, but whatever it was, it changed my life forever. I left the church and went home. I understood in a very strong, clear way what my life would be: I was to become a priest.”
Did he have doubts? He says, “I won’t hide the fact that I had my doubts, but God always wins and after a while I found stability.”
While the focus of the conversation was on the youth, Pope Francis has kind words about old people. He writes, “Old age is a privilege. It means having experience, being able to know and recognize our faults and our merits; it means the ability to be potentially renewed, just as when we were young; it means having acquired the understanding necessary to accept the past and, above all, to have learned from the past.”
The Pope also has advice for those in power. “A person who governs must learn to look up to talk to God but not to act like God. And he must look down to lift up those who have fallen.” He tells them “not to listen solely to intermediaries, but to lower themselves to actually look around. I advise those who govern to touch reality. And to stay away from vanity and pride. A vain, proud man does not know wisdom, and a man without wisdom always ends badly.”
What is the worse consequence of bad governance for those in power? Pope Francis says, “Definitely one’s own self-destruction. But there is another consequence, and though I don’t know if it is really the worst, it occurs very frequently: that is, to end up being ridiculous. And you cannot come back from being ridiculous.”
Finally, Pope Francis expresses anxiety about the cosmetic and plastic surgery industry. In the Philippines, the industry is today one of the biggest and continues to grow. Its billboards are all over Metro Manila, particularly along Edsa and in many commercial establishments, all promising fine skin and better facial and body structures.
“I am certainly very concerned about the cosmetic and plastic surgery industry,” says Pope Francis. “We cannot afford to have them become a necessity; for the good of us all, we cannot accept the spread of an artificial aesthetic. All these depersonalizes man’s beauty, making him look the same as everyone else.
“I find it worrying because here, too, we are trying to play God: attempting to create an image different from the one you have from nature, from natural history. The constant construction of a new, parallel existence is likely to lead to dependence and end up replacing what God has given us. Because life is a gift, I never get tired of it. If I receive a gift and continue altering it to my taste, every day, how can the one who gave it to me not be disappointed.
“Taking proper care of oneself, on the other hand, is quite another thing — wanting to make a good impression on others, self-respect, decorum, a positive appreciation of one’s self, are the result of a fitting self-esteem and the sense of one’s own dignity. This is the right and proper care of the body and of one’s image, which expresses care and inner beauty outwardly as well. This is a good and proper thing.
“Balance is difficult, I know. It is difficult to change a human being without changing the society that nurtures him, and this is where I want to return to my firm confidence in the young, who along with the old can change society.”
On that note, a Merry Christmas to all!
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