CANON GERRY CONROY
There are many crises facing our society; the ongoing pandemic, crisis in the NHS, the economic situation with the impending world recession, the war that drags on in Ukraine, but there is also the great cultural changes and the changes in the outlook on morals that are so confusing to many. One of the most disturbing trends is the deep dissatisfaction with nature that many people express. It is evidence of a wide-spread recognition that all is not well; there is even a deep dissatisfaction in many people about their own nature.
It seems to be part of human nature to be dissatisfied with how things are, to be constantly seeking ways to improve things; At one stage we sought to control nature, to manipulate it to our advantage; but now we understand that we didn’t really understand nature, or at least the implications of what we were doing. Now with the relatively new science of ecology, we have a better understanding of nature with its complicated workings; we are slowly learning to respect it and understand that we must understand ourselves as, in so many ways, dependent on its proper balance. In his encyclical on love, Pope Benedict said that, the importance of ecology is no longer disputed. But he goes on to say that there is an ecology of humanity also. We are not simply self-creating freedoms that we can manipulate reality at will, as we once sought to do with nature. We do not create ourselves. We must listen and accept ourselves for who we are. Yet this dissatisfaction with ourselves, with what we experience around us remains; we know that in some way we are incomplete. We do not yet fully understand ourselves and so we are going to make mistakes just as in the past we have made dangerous mistakes in trying to live with nature. We need to understand ourselves better if we are to grow into the fulness of our humanity, because that is what is at stake. And as Pope Benedict pointed out, we are not simply intellect and will, human nature also has a moral shape, and often what is lacking in our self-understanding is that moral shape. It seems that, especially in our own age which has abandoned the moral shape of previous generations, the present age in the west has found itself adrift with no firm point of reference by which to find humanity’s moral shape. That is the real crux of the matter facing this search to understand ourselves. It is not helpful to say each person must make up their own mind on what is right and what is wrong; that only leads to further chaos in the lack of unity and a refusal to accept our interdependence with others and nature which has led to such trouble in the past.
The Gospel today points us to the answer that is given by our faith. There John the Baptist singles out Christ as the Lamb of God and the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit. These two titles of Christ point to the mission given to him by the Father. As Lamb of God he has been sent to bring us freedom and in the Holy Spirit, he shows us how to make use of our freedom. As Lamb of God he sets us free from the things that enslave us as the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the Israelites in Egypt marked them out for salvation. It is in turning to Christ and listening to the Holy Spirit that we find the shape of our humanity. That is not the end of the journey; it is the beginning, but at least we know we are setting out on the road that leads to a true freedom and to eternal life.