The only life that matters
Shane Dwyer is the Director of the National Centre for Evangelisation and the Catholic Enquiry Centre.
AS I write we are at the beginnings of Holy Week, when we enter once again into the truths that are at the very heart of our faith.
I was privileged to be present at a Mass on Palm Sunday where a parishioner had been invited to share her faith story. Those present witnessed a remarkable event, as she took us on the journey with Jesus through the highs and lows of Holy Week and showed how it all had relevance for her own life and experience and, therefore, to the lives and experience of all those gathered.
We like the highs in our own lives and, if at all possible, we would avoid the lows. As a people of faith we seem to be experiencing more of the lows lately. Perhaps a symbol of this can be seen in the smouldering carcass of Notre Dame Cathedral. Let’s not read too much into this, except to acknowledge that we have here no lasting city, and those things in which we are tempted to put our hope, no matter how representative of God we might imagine them to be, are no substitute for God and must not be thought to be so. This applies not only to our buildings…
Recently my office was contacted by someone wondering what we were going to do to support the rugby player, Israel Folau, by defending his right to free speech. You might recall that there has been a furore caused by Mr Folau’s insistence that certain people who behave in particular ways are going to roast for eternity. It’s a stance I’m fairly familiar with, largely from people of a more fundamentalist bent who engage on social media and the like, seeking to prove why others won’t be ‘saved’ and, by implication, why they themselves will be.
My initial response to Mr Folau’s selective rendering of scripture was to recall that we are all sinners. As the psalmist wrote: “If you O Lord should mark our guilt who would survive? But with you is found forgiveness, for this we revere you.” (Psalm 130:3). It stands as a precursor to Jesus’ teaching on the matter (Matthew 7:1) and his challenge to those who would judge others, noting that they themselves will be judged in the same manner and degree.
That’s not to say that sin is not of significance. Of course it is. Any behaviour that is indicative of our not being in an authentic and loving relationship with God requires humble attention and repentance. Yet it must be acknowledged that by identifying people as being merely the sum of their sins renders them less than human, and so open to scorn and abuse.
That’s the problem with this fundamentalist stance: it fails to recognise the essential humanity and dignity of all people, no matter what they’re struggling with, and by so doing implies their inferiority. We shall all require the mercy of God. Let’s not be too quick to consign others to hell, if for no other reason that, by so doing, we increase our own chances of self-alienation from God. Fortunately, who experiences what after final judgement is not for us to decide. Judgement is reserved to God, for God alone knows our hearts (see Acts 15:8).
We have looked at one or two lows, so let’s end on a high. If you haven’t had the chance yet, purchase or download a copy of Pope Francis’ most recent Apostolic Exhortation ‘Christus Vivit’. Written primarily with young people in mind, he reminds us all of a number of different teachings that can help to orient us in our Catholic response to the contemporary environment. His opening words are enduringly relevant to us all: Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world. The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive!
As this exhortation reminds us: let’s not be on the defensive (let alone on the attack), and in humility listen and reach out to others. Otherwise, we risk turning into a museum. So, as churches burn and sinners are consigned to hell on social media, we are called to live in the hope of the resurrection of Jesus and in the fire of his Holy Spirit.