RELIGION: Traditions are more and more regarded as out of date

By Canon Gerry Conroy

I read an article the other day that claimed that the mark of modern life is Dissatisfaction. I don’t know if people are any more dissatisfied with life now than they were in previous generations, but certainly for many there is a distrust in many of the traditionally established foundations of society.

Institutions, whether government NHS, the Church, marriage all are sources of dissatisfaction. But the dissatisfaction goes further: traditions are more and more regarded as out of date, as no longer suitable for modern life. People look for now change, they value what is new whereas before continuity was more valued. Now there seems to be a rejection of the past without a clear desire for what is to come except
a desire for a freedom that is more about freedom to express oneself. The great hope of people now is to be found in ‘Progress’.

We are consumed with the idea that the future will provide the answer to all our problems because we are capable of anything, we can achieve anything. Unfortunately some dark clouds have appeared in our blue sky: environment, war, economic instability, to name just a few.

These clouds threaten our belief in the future; they raise the possibility that rather than the future marching inevitably towards further progress, the march of time is leading us instead towards recession. If once people hoped to be better off than previous generations, now there is an increasing worry that the standard of living is falling for most people.

One problem is that we live in a time of expressive individualism – when life is all about me- there is little room for others and their rights because we are so centred on our own rights. We have lost a sense not only of responsibility, but of community. Losing that sense of others goes hand in hand with losing a sense of God and with that the meaning of eternal life becomes unclear; we take it as our natural right, unearned and certainly not given to me by someone else, but on what eternal life is we cannot agree.

That is where the dissatisfaction arises, people are confused about life, about the world, about themselves; they cannot settle because there is no solid foundation, no certain future in which to hope.

Reflecting on the Gospel may help us find a way to approach life that offers not only some more certainty about the future, but also restores some hope to our life. The message of the Gospel turns our attention to thanksgiving. For those lepers, life was chaos and confusion, their future hopeless and would only get worse. Christ’s presence changed that for them. He turned their lives around and gave them back a future; from then on life would become better.

Faith teaches us to recognise the gift of life, the gift that comes from God. The gift first of life, but also the greater gift of salvation from sin and death and the gift of eternal life. This is the future that faith offers to us; a future that comes when we build our lives on life as a gift to be shared with others as it has been shared with us. Seeing life as a gift, isn’t the answer to all the problems of the world, but it is a good place to start.

Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton

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