By Canon Gerry Conroy, Parish Priest of St Patrick’s Church, Dumbarton
We are a very practical species as human beings. That is our strength, but it might also be our weakness. In this technological age we have come into our own because using technology by its very nature reshapes a culture toward purely practical actions and results, and it follows almost inevitably from this that the reality that counts in such an age is material reality. In these days we are being forced to rely heavily on technology to see us through the crisis which we face in order to return life to what it was before. And yet people are also asking do we want to return to life as it was before. They are asking is this not an opportunity to introduce into our lives some of the values we have rediscovered so that life will be slightly more human, perhaps even to re-envisage our love tryst with technology in order to save the planet. Some people say it’s through technology that we will save ourselves, but perhaps in lockdown we are glimpsing that we need something more.
There is, I think, something in the Gospel of this struggle in human hearts between a world view, an understanding of the world that is purely practical and material, and the pull to something that transcends this world view and opens us out to something that is more fully human, something that even transcends our humanity. There is Thomas who cannot grasp anything beyond this world and as a result is filled with fear when he has to face the prospect of death, and there is Philip who cannot think beyond what he can see now, he cannot grasp the Son revealing the Father, just as Thomas cannot comprehend life beyond death. They are limited by an inability to see beyond the necessities and experiences of the practical everyday reality that surrounds them.
This could be a time given to us to think about how we want our life to be, rather than simply falling in with the usual feeling of needing to join the common rush of our age to consume more and more. It could be an opportunity to reclaim our lives, to reclaim the beauty of our humanity as something more than simply, ‘practical man’, as people who have a certain amount of things to get done within a limited time. Life isn’t just about what we consume, it’s also about who and what we love, about the beauty of life, and not just ours, but others’ too. What sense does our life make without love? How empty is it if there is nothing to it apart from getting more?
In faith, Christ is calling us to go beyond all of this and see what it means to be human, to see what God has created and what he wanted to save. We can’t reduce ourselves to what is practical. We are more than that and surely we want more than that. In faith we are called to see and understand our everyday life in the light of the transcendent, in the light of God.
A happy group of people from Dumbarton Churches Together in happier times long before the lockdown. Picture by Bill Heaney