A New Year’s cure for hardened hearts, gloomy thoughts

A lot of people, and you may be among them, are holding their breath in the hopes of a better 2010 than we had this year.

So many people I talk to are stressed, depressed or anxious, about their own personal financial or health situations, about the economic state of our nation, about the resurgence of culture wars — and the list goes on.

It could be that we’re letting ourselves be “poisoned by the negative,” as Pope Benedict XVI said earlier this month: reduced to “spectators” of life and passive consumers of media, rather than realizing that, unavoidably for better or worse, we are “actors” and that what we do, or don’t do, affects others.

“Every day, in the newspapers, television and radio, evil is told to us, said again, amplified, so that we get used to the most horrible things, and become desensitized. In a certain way, it poisons us, because the negative is never fully cleansed out of our system but accumulates day after day. The heart hardens and thoughts become gloomy,” the pope said. He was speaking in a Roman square on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

“Dear brothers and sisters, we are the city!” he said. “Each one of us contributes with our lives to its moral climate for better or worse. The border between good and evil runs across everyone’s heart and none of us should feel entitled to judge others. Instead, each one of us must feel duty-bound to improve ourselves. Mass media make us feel like ‘spectators’ as if evil only touched others and that certain things could not happen to us. Instead, we are all ‘actors’ for better or worse, and our behavior influences others.

”The pontiff went on to note how Romans often complain about air pollution in the Eternal City (some parts of which are so clogged with scooters and cars that the air is barely breathable) but said there was another kind of pollution, imperceptible to the senses but “equally dangerous.”

“It is the pollution of the spirit, which makes us smile less, makes us gloomier, less likely to greet one another or look into each other face,” he said.

So what is the antidote to such pollution? Pope Benedict talked about the example of Mary, who he said teaches us to “look at others as he does, starting with the heart, to look upon them with mercy, love, infinite tenderness, especially those who are lonely, scorned or exploited.

”I’d suggest another antidote to hardened hearts and gloomy thoughts: Regularly read America’s largest circulation national Catholic newspaper, Our Sunday Visitor.

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