Canon Gerry Conroy

I don’t mean to be overly negative about life, but I often think our society is sick with a deep down sickness. I suspect part of the problem is it doesn’t know who it is anymore and its not only society that doesn’t know who it is anymore, the problem exists in society because people don’t know who they are any more. Having a sense of our identity is essential to us if we are to live a healthy life; it helps us place ourselves in the world. But all this just makes me ask, ‘How do we define ourselves?’ Where does our sense of identity come from? It’s interesting that the 1st reading this week chooses to define Israel in terms of the worship it offers to God. – A Kingdom of Priests, a consecrated nation. They are chosen to be a people who will offer worship to God. If they don’t offer God the Worship that is his due, then they are no longer Israel.

In his first letter, St Peter strings together a few phrases from the Bible to describe the identity of Christians and he comes up with the phrase, ‘you are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people to be a personal possession to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.’ So we have inherited that identity as a people who are to understand ourselves in terms of the worship we offer to God.

It might seem a bit strange to talk of ourselves as a people whose purpose is to worship God; there seems to be so many other things in life that would spring to mind before that: husband, wife, mother, father, son, daughter, we might think of our job, or of our nationality. But we need to understand a bit more clearly what worshiping God entails for us and why it is proposed to us as an important identity marker for ourselves. It is not simply about going to Mass on Sunday or saying our morning and night prayers. These things come only because we live our life with God in mind, but we keep the True God in mind only because we worship him as he commands.

This is important because of what happens when we don’t: we lose sight of the Truth, we lose sight of true beauty. Our hope is turned to things that do not lead us to what is truly beautiful and – to the Truth. Our love is distorted from its unity and becomes fragmented, unable to reach its completion because it is splintered and divided into disparate parts. Without God we do not understand who we are; instead we must define ourselves and we end up doing that on the basis of how we feel, and as we know how we feel can change from day to day. And that leaves us feeling confused about life and about ourselves. We are like the crowd in the Gospel who are harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.

The Kingdom of heaven is close at hand, the disciples were to proclaim, but their proclamation wasn’t simply in words; their actions also were to show the Kingdom of God was at hand. The words were to explain the miracles that exploded into the lives of people. In the midst of the injustices and sufferings they faced, in the midst of the confusion amidst which they lived, these miracles must have raised questions about their life and the words of the disciples were there to point them to an answer in Christ.

It is in our worship of God that we first of all continue the work of those first disciples; the work of evangelising, of bringing to people an understanding of the true joy and beauty of life as a gift from God, of bringing to them an understanding of what it means to be a human being, a realisation of who we are. It is in our worship of God that we meet Christ and come to know where to look to see that the answer to our identity is to be found in knowing we are children of God and the work of his hands and life is about giving thanks for that.

Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s and St Peter’s in Dumbarton

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