Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 24th January 2021.
In his inaugural address on Wednesday, the new President of the United States, Joe Biden, used the word ‘unity’ many times, including these words:
“Uniting to fight the foes we face: anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness. With unity, we can do great things, important things . . . I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know that the forces that divide us are deep and they are real. But I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we all are created equal, and the harsh ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart.”
It’s a tall order to counter “anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness”. Human nature being what it is, there will always be people who indulge in anger, resentment, hatred, extremism and violence. But we owe it to ourselves and all people to try to reduce those things in our lives which prevent us from living in unity and peace with others.
For the Christian, quite by chance, we are currently in the ‘Week of Prayer for Christian Unity’, which extends from 18 to 25 January, covering the period from the Feast of St. Peter to the Feast of St. Paul. This ‘Week’ is actually 8 days and when it started in 1908 it was called ‘An Octave of Prayer’. Originally, it was a call to bring all Christians back to the Roman Catholic faith, but in the 1930s a French priest, Paul Couturier, promoted a wider remit. He said that “we must pray not that others may be converted to us, but that we may all be drawn closer to Christ”. The World Council of Churches now oversees the project.
If we are all drawn to Christ, it does not matter which Christian denomination we belong to. We are in unity in the sense that we are all one in Christ. Denominational structures may vary. Places of worship may vary. Liturgy may vary. But we are all seeking to live by Christian values.
My father had a little joke with which he used to tease little children. He would say: “Just remember this. Clay makes bricks. Bricks make walls. Walls make ice cream!” So why have a I remembered that little non-sequitur, that little illogical sequence! Well I came across a quotation from another Roman Catholic priest, the Belgian Cardinal Desirée Mercier (1851-1926), which did have a logical string to it. He said this: “In order to be united, we must love one another, to love one another, we must know one another, and to know one another we must meet one another.”
The point Cardinal Mercier is making is that, to solve the world’s human problems, we need to engage with them. It is no good turning our backs on problems, national or personal, and then complaining that they won’t go away. We can’t personally solve all the world’s problems. We have to leave most of the major problems for those professionals who have the skill and resources to deal with them. But on a personal level we can each make a small contribution towards unity.
The greatest Christian value we have, and the greatest weapon we have in our armoury against negativity in the world, is love. A parishioner emailed me about my Thought for the Day last Sunday, in which I mentioned love, and said: “ … surely ‘love’ has to be one of the best four letter words in the English language”. I am sure we would all agree. I replied, “I think almost any sermon reflects love somewhere in it, even if the word is not actually used.”
The contribution we can each as individuals make towards unity, harmony, happiness – whatever you want to call it – is to demonstrate love. Love is about our duty to use every opportunity to offer a positive for every negative we experience in our lives. This approach is summed up in the prayer widely known as the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.