By Canon Gerry Conroy
I can’t help but feel a little weariness with the present ongoing situation. Even with the booster, some experts and people are speaking of a yearly vaccination, a bit like the yearly flu injection. It seems that our poor frail bodies do not have the necessary resources to fight the disease by themselves. But that is the case for so many diseases that afflict our bodies. To be frank it is not only true for physical diseases; it is true for so many of the problems that afflict us as human beings.
There is, I think, a general attitude proposed to us that we can improve our situation, that we can be better people simply through knowledge and education. Schools are required to educate people about all sorts of things as if knowledge alone would inevitably lead them to making, for example, good moral choices. This all seems to suggest that if we have enough knowledge or know what is right we will choose it. Then, it is assumed, human perfection and the perfection of society will follow as a matter of course.
But as St John Henry Newman said, knowledge … never healed a wounded heart, nor changed a sinful one…. It is Christianity that has cleansed man of his moral diseases and raised him to hope and energy, it introduced a new force into the world…
Listening to the prophets, we can almost hear the despair lying behind their words of promise and hope. They are all too aware of humanity’s inability to change their ways; that is why they speak of God himself bringing salvation to his people. After years of observing the stulted moral behaviour of people, they realised that what was needed was an inner transformation, a cleansing of the human soul. Only that would enable the Israelites to live holy lives, to live with integrity and to be truly God’s people and God their God.
When St John speaks of the Messiah Baptising with the Holy Spirit and with fire it is this cleansing he is speaking of, this burning away of all inner evil so that we become entirely pure and unalloyed in our integrity. The great insight that faith gives us into our human nature is this divinely infused insight shared with us by the prophets that original sin’s effects will always be a cause of continual trouble for us and no amount of education or programming can change our nature or engineer some Utopia for us.
The freedom we seek in our world, the perfection of our world and of ourselves is not something that comes from forces within us; it is not achieved through personal struggles and sufferings, it is a gift over which we have no control. This is what is given to us in Baptism when we receive the Holy Spirit. But we must then open ourselves to the influence of that Spirit so that we allow ourselves to be guided by it.
There are many things that afflict our world, and we have been given the grace to make our world a better place by our knowledge and education, but there are some things we cannot change by ourselves, some things for which we need grace, grace to free us from the sin that afflicts us. Without Faith we cannot begin to fully address the complete perfection that we are called to nor find the peace we seek nor freedom from the weariness that afflicts us.