Fr Noel's Homilies

Buzzword‚‚  -‚‚  Survival
Whatever questions‚‚  may be asked‚‚  concerning the future of religion,‚‚  there is no doubt‚‚  that the past 2000 years have involved something quite remarkable; namely, the continued survival of Christ's name. From obscure origins, His name continues to resound throughout the world, as opponents and supporters mount their attacks or state their defence.

Point 1: Those who make a study of history tell us that what matters in history is not only that which happens, but‚‚  also the things that do not happen. In 1882, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche made his celebrated pronouncement - "God is dead". He was the forerunner of a procession of intellectuals and scientists who believed that science would succeed in debunking religious thinking generally, and Christianity, in particular, would be the principal loser. Among these there are some names well known by English readers - George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Julian Huxley. It was Huxley who commented that "operationally, god is beginning to resemble not a ruler, but the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire cat."

And yet, here we are in a new millennium in which religious sentiment in its various forms still finds strong expression. And Christianity remains the favoured form of expression for millions throughout the world. The words of Lord Macaulay, another well-known historian, and virulently anti-Catholic, come to mind -"she (the Catholic Church) saw the commencement of all governments and of all ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all".

In Africa, millions are turning to Christ. In China and Russia, more than half a century of fierce persecution and denial have failed to stifle the people's belief. Well may we ask wherein lies this extraordinary power to capture people's minds. After all, Christ's own life was not a recipe for success. And yet, his short-lived presence changed the course of history, even to the extent of influencing how people count the years. It is impossible to travel anywhere in the world today where His name is not invoked.

Point 2: The explanation for this, I believe, is that his teaching centred on the individual and the rights of the individual. For Him, love of God could only be found where the rights and the dignity of the individual were respected. For Him, power and authority only had value when they protected the position of those who did not enjoy status or wealth. And it is from this basic concern that we can trace so much that is good in our society - a form of government deriving its authority from the voice of the people; the quest for justice that seeks a fair distribution of the common wealth; the recognition of the right for everyone to be educated; the sense of compassion for the sick and the suffering. For Christ, every individual has these basic entitlements because each individual is a child of God. Rights, not privileges. This central theme that God, not man, is the final authority explains why religion in general, hangs in; and why Christianity in particular has met its challengers in the past; as it will in the future.

Point 3: We have lived through some terrible times within living memory precisely because man has sought to subvert this thinking. Let us look at three areas where, by his efforts, man has been led to believe in his supremacy - physics, social engineering and biology.

In the field of nuclear physics, whilst acknowledging the many wonderful achievements, there have also been some catastrophic forays into areas where , if left unchecked by the recognition of a Higher Moral Authority, man's efforts could well result in the destruction of the universe.

The denial that the individual has God-given rights also gave rise to some disastrous experiments in social engineering where we saw the rise and the fall, thank God, of the Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes, to mention but two examples. These systems argued that right and wrong could be manipulated for the convenience of the government. The individual was but a pawn.

The century that gave rise to these systems has drawn to a close and the new found darling of science is Biology and its offspring, genetic engineering. Here scientists see a new opportunity to play God with people.

In the face of these constant challenges, it is comforting to know that Christianity, with its central message of recognising God as the Ultimate Authority and the inalienable rights of the individual, remains strong and vocal. The words of Jesus have created a body of faith and morality that continue to argue for balance in a world so given to extremes.

Conclusion: And so we come together again to acknowledge that Christ's message has consistently brought benefits to society because it is a message of deep-felt consideration for the individual. As such, it took hold in the hostile environment of the Roman Empire; and over the past 20 centuries it has continued to challenge people to lift their game. We know that this message has not succeeded in banishing entirely the darker side of humanity, but we do claim that it has lightened it. And we also acknowledge that the ideal proposed cannot be achieved overnight; nor can it end war, greed ,cruelty and the miseries of the poor; but it can serve to mitigate these as it holds out to people an ideal of what we could be if we are prepared to submit our will to His. But, more than anything else, Christianity provides us with an understanding of that greatest question of all - the question of Death. With its firm promise of "life in its fullness" and the means to achieve it, Christianity offers an antidote to the fear that death arouses in us.

This is Christ's lasting legacy . This is why His name has survived and will continue to survive. It is a legacy that has not diminished and it will continue to inspire men, women and children of good will. May this annual celebration serve to strengthen our resolve to delve more deeply into what St. Paul describes as "fullness of Christ".