by Bishop Kevin Doran
People sometimes ask me why I don’t get the priests to celebrate Confirmation. It’s a reasonable question. There are plenty of things I could be doing, but I think the opportunity to celebrate faith with young people and their parents is well worth the time I take from other things.
This year I chose the Gospel of the Annunciation, which gave me an opportunity to share some thoughts on how Mary responded to the gift of the Holy Spirit and, in particular to the gift of life. I was struck by the fact that Mary’s first response was a feeling of being “deeply troubled.” Then she asked “How can this be?” Mary wanted to understand and, it is worth reminding ourselves that “understanding” is one of the gits of the Holy Spirit. Theology is sometimes described as “faith seeking understanding.” In that sense we can all be theologians if we seek the truth with integrity.
When we look at any of the major challenges facing our society at the present time, we might understandably be “deeply troubled” for ourselves, for our children or indeed for others, not personally known to us, who are in real difficulty. We are better now at expressing our feelings than we used to be and that is good. I’m not so sure, however, that we are as good at seeking understanding.
It is worth asking ourselves what gives meaning and purpose to our existence. There was a time when most people acknowledged God as the source of meaning. We have achieved so much in science and technology in recent generations that we have forgotten who we are. We are more inclined these days to see ourselves as the ultimate source of meaning. Even practicing Catholics are less inclined to say “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done in me.” That is because, instead of seeking to be formed in the image of God, we have formed God in our own image. By reducing the stature of God, we have also reduced ourselves.
When Jesus said that he had come to bear witness to the truth, Pontius Pilate famously asked: “Truth, what is that?” I think the answer is that, while my feelings may motivate me to seek truthful and authentic responses to the great questions of life, the truth is not limited to what I feel. It is much bigger than me.
Many of us are too busy to prepare fresh food, so we tend to buy processed foods. In much the same way, the evidence of recent public debate would suggest that many of us have lost our capacity to think for ourselves. We accept pre-packed solutions to social questions, without asking ourselves where they are coming from. We think we are breaking free from traditional values and attitudes. But where is the freedom in the Gospel according to Twitter?
In 1949, George Orwell wrote his famous novel “1984” about an imaginary totalitarian society in which “Big Brother” controlled the hearts and minds of people by having two way monitors in every home and workplace. Who would have thought how dependent we would become on our phones and our tablets to tell us what we should believe.
Language in Orwell’s “Oceania” was re-designed to mean just what “the party” wanted it to mean. We are now being told that a hotel-room is “home”. The killing of the innocent is “compassion”. “Care” is a great slogan, but real “care” is more than just a feeling. We would all do well to remember that “care” is an action word and it requires the gift of self. It can’t just be left to “big brother”.
Meanwhile, social media should be valued as a useful tool for sourcing information and sharing opinions. But let’s not forget to examine critically what is presented as truth. Only the truth will set us free.