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December 1, 2020
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December 1, 2020

The difficulties of Nuclear Man

The fourth session on ‘Marriage: a symbol of real love’—a journey with the book, The Wounded Healer had two segments.

Fr Dexter Brereton CSSp facilitated the first segment. He indicated that the aim of the session was to explain the spiritual profile of man and woman in today’s society as well as the inertia or lack of understanding that persons encounter during ministry.

Referencing Nouwen, Fr Brereton defined ‘nuclear man’ (or woman) as the person who realises that his (or her) creative powers hold the potential for self-destruction.

He explained that the man or woman to whom we minister is a person with material and technological wealth at his or her disposal that was unimaginable a few decades ago. This wealth brings life as well as death.

The internet for example, bridges enormous gaps yet persons are more divided than ever before. Nuclear man gropes for direction and asks for meaning and purpose, while immersed in an abundance of material commodities.

Fr Brereton stated that technology is used not to enhance human existence but to disguise its emptiness and its dysfunction as well as the fragmentation and the perversion which takes place at the spiritual level.

According to Nouwen, it has become possible for man to destroy not only life but the possibility of rebirth, not only men but also humankind, not only periods of existence but history itself.

Fr Brereton postulated that technology is akin to the fig leaves that Adam and Eve sewed together in order to disguise the uneasiness or shame that they felt in front of each other when sin entered the world.

Referencing psychohistorian, Robert Jay Lifton, Fr Brereton identified three characteristics of nuclear man: historic dislocation; fragmented ideology; and a search for new immortality.

Historic dislocation: refers to a break in the sense of connection to the flow of history and tradition. Fr Brereton explained that as participants in Judeo-Christianity, we have inherited from our religious tradition, a sense that history is linear and will one-day reach its climax in God. This linear sense of history has not been passed on and is lacking in persons today. Fr Brereton therefore cautioned against Christian preaching that presupposes that everyone has a sense that history is going somewhere. He explained that it is only when human beings feel themselves responsible for the future, can they live in hope as against despair.

Fragmented ideology: refers to the lack of stable ground regarding beliefs. We are called to love God with our whole existence (Mk 12:30). However, some persons’ lives are made up of different parts that do not come together. Fr Brereton stated that many persons live in two worlds—they remove their masks of spirituality after Mass on a Sunday and descend into worldly behaviour (“dutty mas”) from Monday to Saturday. He added that many persons are unaware of this fragmentation.

A search for new immortality: refers to the core problem of nuclear man—the threat to his sense of immortality. For nuclear man, traditional modes of immortality have lost its connective power. Fr Brereton said that people of our time are trapped in the “here and now”. Lifton explained that this spiritual profile makes ministry challenging because persons are less likely to believe that the hereafter is an answer to the search for immortality when there is hardly any belief in the ‘here’.

Fr Brereton allowed time for discussion regarding the spiritual profile of nuclear man or woman. He then encouraged couples to continue the discussion in their households concerning the antidote for the materialism, hedonism, and aimlessness in today’s society.

The second segment was facilitated by Raymond and Tricia Syms. Couples were invited to have their masks available during the session. The Syms’ shared their testimony on overcoming the challenges that they encountered in marriage. They identified daily couple prayer; invaluable support from friends; and their involvement in ministry as significant resources in helping them to confront and navigate the challenges they encountered as a couple.

Spouses were then asked to put on their masks and to symbolically remove them during the discussions that followed. Couples were invited to face each other and discuss how they can overcome their individual challenges in taking off their masks as well as what hinders them from taking off their masks and being vulnerable.

During the feedback session, one couple said that being able to share their minds and hearts openly and honestly, without accusation or the solicitation of feedback from their partner, was helpful for them. Another participant disclosed that not being taken seriously when sharing was a hindrance to being vulnerable. The spouses were then invited to pray for each other.

This insightful session ended with Fr Brereton conveying greetings to the participants from Archbishop Jason Gordon.