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‘Couching Tiger’

Fr. Francis Ongkingco


More and more people are no longer smoking because they are more aware of its hazardous consequences on one’s health. Today, however, many are unaware of a new health threat that could be as dangerous as smoking: prolonged sitting down. Many of us may not know, but our biological framework was designed not to sit down but to be on the move, that is, walking, running, and standing.

As our lifestyle evolved from being hunting nomads to an agricultural-industrial settler living in villages and cities, so did our physical movement. Shortage of food supply, the drastic climate changes forced our ancestors to move in order to survive. Now, with industrial and technological progress, man can choose to settle comfortably anywhere.

I wonder if Pope Francis had all these things in mind when he again surprised his audience during the World Youth Day in Krakow. He reminded us that “we didn’t come to the world in order to vegetate” and much less be paralyzed by “confusing happiness with a sofa.” The Pope said amusingly described this dangerous soft outlook in life:

“…To think that in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa. A sofa that makes us feel comfortable, calm, safe. A sofa like one of those we have nowadays with a built-in massage unit to put us to sleep. A sofa that promises us hours of comfort so we can escape to the world of video games and spend all kinds of time in front of a computer screen. A sofa that keeps us safe from any kind of pain and fear. A sofa that allows us to stay home without needing to work at, or worry about, anything. ‘Sofa happiness’! That is probably the most harmful and insidious form of paralysis, since little by little, without even realizing it, we start to nod off, to grow drowsy and dull while others – perhaps more alert than we are, but not necessarily better – decide our future for us. (Krakow, 30-VII-16)”

These words may sound a bit strong but they reveal a deep and genuine concern in the Holy Father’s heart for the good and happiness of the youth. No one can tell when the first sofa or couch was invented. But it didn’t take long for man to fall upon his ‘comforting-seeking attitude’ or laziness that was one of the consequences of original sin handed on to every human being. A comfort-seeking tendency is a mental ‘sofa of happiness’ that is fast becoming a prison for many people. It doesn’t only hamper their spiritual life but also their personal, social, and physiological development. It is a deceptive ‘zone of happiness’ that transforms into an invisible prison for the ‘youthful tiger’ in youth to be degraded into a decorative kitten. “Youth indeed,” as George B. Shaw pessimistically observed, “is sadly wasted in youth.” But this need not happen if we allow the Holy Father’s words to awaken and lead us to a higher ideal:

“No, we came [into the world] for another reason: to leave a mark. It is very sad to pass through life without leaving a mark. But when we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: we lose our freedom. (Ibid.)”

There is no one way to avoid falling into a sofa of happiness. What is clear is that we ought to struggle constantly against its manifestations in laziness, procrastination, inconsistency, and lack of fortitude to persevere. But it would be more positive and fruitful if instead of simply avoiding this comfort-seeking lifestyle, we set out to leave a mark like Pope Francis said. Simply trying to overcome one’s laziness doesn’t really leave a distinctive mark by itself but an ideal, an ambition or answering a vocation can leave something more vital, attractive, and lasting.

Our ideal must be set in becoming the best person we can be by following the most perfect man, that is, Christ. Centering our life on Him – words and examples – will be the clearest and most solid template for our life plan. This discipleship then intertwines with the other realities of one’s life: family, profession, social relations, and engagements, rest and more. Without leaving one’s present circumstances, one can effectively place our Lord’s presence in the crest of every human reality. And all this, carried out in the summit and brilliance of one’s youth without having to wait for old age to serve God and others.

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