God graced St. Philip with a charisma of drawing people together. Part clown (as in “fool for Christ”), part philosopher (the “Roman Socrates”), and part apostle (the “Second Apostle of Rome”), St. Philip essentially congregated people. He drew them in by relating the Scriptures to their lives, with irresistible joy in music and art, and through simple humor. His aphorisms are as fresh today as they were in Renaissance Rome.
This City, and cities across the planet, need more Saints Philips. The people in our cities are frighteningly disconnected despite, or perhaps because of, “social media.” The technology is not bad in itself, of course, but we are using it badly. It will take a generation or two, as with any new technology, to learn to use digital connectivity well.
At the base of all social connection is “religion.” That statement is fairly anathema today, but consider the etymology of the word itself. The word “religion” comes from re and ligare in Latin, meaning, to “reconnect.” The premise is that we have suffered a vital disconnection from our First Principle and therefore with all the natural world (Christians call it “original sin”). We need reconnection. Right religion fundamentally reconnects humanity to its first principle and so reestablishes the normal connections with the entire web of life. Can I prove this? Philosophically yes, but consider the simple evidence: in societies which distance themselves from religion, social disconnectedness increases. In our own society, suicide and drug abuse (the ultimate disconnection with the web of life) is now a young person’s primary killer. Firearms regulation may help curb school shootings, but it certainly doesn’t address the real issue. If people are violent, they will find some way of killing. I think they are violent because they are disconnected, despite the three hundred “friends” they may have on Facebook.
Let me end with a charming story. Yesterday I was driving back from a retreat house in rural California. I was planning to gas up at the shiny new superstation at the freeway, but my gas gage forced me to stop at the local Mom-and-Pop station. I looked at the antique pumps with dismay—no credit card slots! I would have to go inside and talk to someone! Inside the little store, a scruffy man was chatting with the store owner. She was no supermodel, but she knew how to run a store. While talking to the man (who needed someone to talk to, apparently), she thrust out a stout arm for my payment. “$30 on #7” I called over the scruffy man’s drawl. “OK hon,” she said. I got a little tingly all over. She called me “hon!” No one has called me “honey” in a long time (my Mom used to). She gave me some change, and I walked toward the door. “Hon, did you say #7?” “Yes, Number Seven,” I replied, feeling a little warm and tingly again.
I think I’ll stop by for gas again, the next time I’m in the neighborhood.