By Canon Gerry Conroy
I’d like to begin this short reflection on the Gospel commands to love God and to love our neighbour by reading a quote from St John Paul II’s letter on the new millennium. Twenty years ago he said, ‘In the climate of increased cultural and religious pluralism which is expected to mark the society of the new millennium, it is obvious that … dialogue will be especially important in establishing a sure basis for peace and warding off the dread spectre of those wars of religion which have so often bloodied human history. The name of the one God must become increasingly what it is: a name of peace and a summons to peace. Dialogue, however, cannot be based on religious indifferentism, and we Christians are in duty bound, while engaging in dialogue, to bear clear witness to the hope that is within us.’
We are entering a post Christian period which is a new situation in which we find ourselves. In the west, there hasn’t really been such a situation for the past 1700 years, so no one can remember what it is like to have such a stark opposition of values and understanding of what it means to be human. Christianity radically changed not only society but our understanding of ourselves. It gave people a sense of equality that was completely alien to pagan society, it gave people an understanding of themselves as individuals, with a dignity in themselves, but importantly individuals equal before God because they were as individuals answerable to God. Pagan society fought against that view with persecutions and violence because it ushered in a fundamental change in society where all people were equal and it viewed Christianity as a moral and social threat, as indeed it was.
With Christianity no longer influential in society, in fact downright rejected, and God discounted, all we are left with is an individual who is its own authority. The threat of unrestrained power looms again over us. There is nothing left to bind us together, even our common humanity is challenged. Christianity, sees the destructive nature inherent in such a view and so it is opposed to such a view of humanity and freedom, but for this very reason it is discounted by a society blind to the dangers on the path it is pursuing. Two radically different views of what it means to be human are confronting one another.
But we are still called on to love our neighbour, and to give an account of our hope. If for no other reason, that with all the dissension and fear and discord that is around, it is clear our world is in need of hope and a future, it is in need of unity and that is something Christianity can offer. At their best, people of faith can enrich the lives of others, at our worst we only add to the turmoil. Just now our world needs everyone to be at their best.
- Picture: St John Paul II receives His Excellency Frank Meehan, a former pupil of St Patrick’s High School, Dumbarton, who rose through the ranks of the US Diplomatic Service to become Ambassador to Poland and a number of other European countries.