Wednesday, 24 August 2011


Perhaps the most common prayer to the Sacred Heart is that of ' I place all my trust in you.'  And when we reflect on the Sacred Heart we naturally, therefore, turn our minds towards the idea of trust.  Again, when we reflect on so many of the social, economic and political  problems which beset our world the role of trust is central.   In my library I have at least a dozen books on trust, and the research on trust in economics and sociology, political science and other social sciences  is considerable and growing.  I recently bought a copy of the Harvard Business Review ( July/ August 2011)  for a journey  and that was a special issue entirely devoted to the challenge of building a culture of trust which could facilitate collaboration in organizations and thereby promote innovation.   The Sacred Heart is so important when it comes to thinking about our problems that  for this reason, as for many others, the Sacred Heart should be seen as a symbol of Catholic Social Teaching (CST).   As Benedict points out in his Encyclical Caritas in Veritate (HERE)  the whole message of CST is that of love.   And love and trust are intertwined and inter-connected in so many ways.

At a personal level I am sure that we have all known of or experienced what happens when two people who love one another stop trusting each other.   When  one person cannot trust another love so often withers and dies.   To love is to trust another person completely  - with your whole heart.  To love is to make yourself open and vulnerable.  And when a person you have trusted betrays that trust we all feel very hurt and wounded.   The Sacred Heart is a powerful statement of love and trust.  God loves and trusts us and all too often we repay that trust by hurting and wounding the Sacred Heart.  But God is infinitely  merciful  and forgives all the times we turn away from him.  Hence asking for God's mercy is a key aspect of the Sacred Heart.

The trouble is that human beings have a considerable capacity not to forgive and once trust has gone - either in a bang or a whimper - it is a challenge to re-build trusting relationships.   And yet so much of what makes society possible is to do with trust.   Trust is central to economic life as it is to social and political life.   If people cease to trust each other or cease to trust particular groups of people, or if they cease to trust institutions civilization can rapidly fall apart.   Our age is experiencing so many problems which are all really about trust.  The Church itself  has a problem of re-gaining the trust which it used to enjoy and which it oftentimes took for granted.

But trust is not something which can be made to order.  Trust takes a long  time to build: but it can be destroyed and reduced to rubble in moments.   When I was an undergraduate one of the things I studied was game theory.  This involves using mathematical models to understand how rational human beings make decisions.   Game theory gave a very distorted perspective on human nature: it assumed that rational human beings would always seek to maximize their own interests and so many of the 'games' we 'played' showed that human beings assumed that other human beings could not be trusted.  It was a mathematics of distrust.  ( It was this maths which was, of course, the theoretical underpinning of MAD - mutually assured destruction strategies during the cold war!)   More recent research into game theory, however, has shown that human beings can indeed learn to cooperate and trust one another, and thereby advance their common interest.   A key factor in the development of such cooperative strategies is repeat interactions.  That is, the more games you play, the more players learn how collaborating with other players is good for everyone!  In other words, we now  have a mathematics of how trust can be built!

The Sacred Heart should remind us EVERYTIME we reflect upon it, that we are all made in God's image.  And that God is love.   If we are to built a civilization of love we have to understand that it requires human beings to work hard and struggle at building a world in which there is more trust between people and between peoples.   In a sense, therefore, CST is really about how human beings can learn to trust, because without building trust,  a civilization of love is not possible.  But our faith in Christ as the point at which all creation is converging should fill us with hope that over time and over space humanity will evolve in the direction of  building the earth by building  a world which seeks to solve its problems through building relationships of trust.  (The New Jerusalem being measured by our angel will be built from the bricks of trust!!)   It is not going to happen overnight or in a few years.   It will not happen as result of a 'revolution': building a civilization of love is essentially an evolutionary process.   And we are asked to ' trust in this slow work of God'.   The Sacred Heart call us to trust in the power of love and not to despair when hate is triumphant.  Perhaps evolution is just another word for the cross or another word for hope.

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