RELIGION: We are surrounded and supported by customs and traditions


There was a time when there were plenty of external supports for people living lives of faith, when Society was Christian, when shops closed on Sundays, and people didn’t have to work, when people could be seen going to Church as families because they could, when certain things were publicly called out as wrong behaviour, when public displays of faith were not frowned upon or discouraged. I’m not simply lamenting the passing of those days as having passed, I’m pointing out that faith no longer has the public support it once had. Society, for those who have faith, is now more reminiscent of the situation in the first reading where it says ‘terror from every side!” Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ All those who used to be my friends watched for my downfall…’ or even the words of the Gospel, ‘if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven.’ I’m not lamenting the passing of those days because I do not think that it is necessarily a bad thing they have gone. Instead their passing may be an opportunity.

What I mean is that when we are surrounded and supported by customs and traditions, it is easy to simply allow ourselves to be carried along by them without making them our own. When, however, we are without the support they offer, the choice we make to believe is a real personal choice; it must be a real personal choice since it is going against the flow around us. And when we listen to the words of Christ, at the heart of such a choice is the individual’s decision to believe in him. That choice for Christ that determines our behaviour in life is what he asks for rather than merely a following of laws and commandments or traditions that have little to no resonance in our hearts. This personal choice is at the heart of the call to repentance, not just saying sorry for any sins we commit, but the call to a new way of thinking and looking at life, a new way of living our life. As was the case in the early Church where believing in Christ was not a popular or convenient choice but one that arose out of a genuine desire for what he said and belief in him, so in our day our options are clarified and what we choose is clear; we are choosing Christ and not just all the trappings that may also attract us. Faith is a choice for Christ. It is a choice to find our hope in God and to put our trust in him. In practical terms that means the opposition is clarified for us; there is an understanding of life and of ourselves that comes from God and in opposition there is an understanding of life and of ourselves that comes from the world around us, there are the expectations of God and there are those of the world. The world proposes to us an image through media, through its idea of what will make us happy or successful in life. It sells us an empty image, an image empty of hope, empty of love; a confusing image for those that are already confused. God’s expectation of us is that we listen to his word and come to understand that we are his children, that we are made in his image. He wants us to know this so that we will know we are loved and will come to share a true and lasting joy. That is what we are called to share; that is the good news that enables us to show love to one another. That is what it means to declare ourselves for him in the presence of men: It is not only to proclaim Jesus as the Christ, it is also to witness to a hope and joy this world cannot know and cannot give us.

Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s and St Peter’s in Dumbarton and is soon to take up a new post as Chaplain to the University of Glasgow.

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