Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. There is only one place to begin and that is by wishing you all a very happy new year. I hope and pray that 2023 may be a year of peace and blessing for everyone. On this ‘World Day of Peace’, we again dare to hope that our hearts, our families and our world will have greater peace. We think and pray especially for Ukraine and other places where there is conflict and where there is most need of the peace that Christ came to bring.
During the week, the government announced that the time spent teaching religion in our schools is to be cut and replaced by the teaching of foreign languages. The move is hardly surprising given the fact that Ireland is becoming increasingly less religious. It is also a sign that for many, religious faith is irrelevant to lives and society today. It’s a private matter and that’s the end of it.
But hang on a minute. Is this true? Is there evidence to show that Irish society is healthier and happier now that our religion is in decline? On the contrary, it is no coincidence that the decline of Christianity in our country has coincided with a drug abuse problem that seems out of control; daily reports of assaults, stabbings, thefts and murders. As evidence of this, 2022 was one of the worse years of violent assaults against women. The link between all this and the weakening of Christian faith is not difficult to identify. The fundamentals of the Christian faith are love of God, love and respect of neighbour, forgiveness, service and the acknowledgement of the rights of others. When all of these are forgotten or thrown out the window then it is little wonder that we become a society where there is increasing disrespect for one another which leads to violence and a disregarding of the rights of others, born and unborn.
We think here too of all the positive ways in which Christian faith has shaped historical events of the past. For example, this is the year that marks the centenary of the Civil War in Ireland. In 1932 the Eucharistic Congress helped to heal the wounds of bitterness and division of that terrible event.
In ‘State Paper’ documents that recorded political events in Northern Ireland in the year 1990, it was revealed that two chaplains at the Maze prison, one Catholic and one Protestant, were instrumental in negotiating talks between paramilitaries and the British government. These talks would become the genesis of the first IRA ceasefire in 1994. 2023 marks the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement reached in 1998. For us, the coinciding of the historic peace deal that was finally reached on the day Christ died for peace, was no coincidence but was providential.
Friends, on this World Day of Peace, may we be blessed with God’s peace that comes with his presence and blessing. In the words of the first reading: ‘May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace’. But may we also be bearers of God’s peace that is so badly needed in our hearts, in society and in the world today. Each of us are called to be like Mary who is the ‘God bearer’ and carrier of peace. She brought peace and joy to Elizabeth. She bore the Prince of Peace in her womb and extends that peace to us her children. Every day she gently directs us to her Son and to the gift he offered his disciples after his resurrection: ‘Peace be with you’.
If peace is lacking in human hearts then it will be lacking in our homes and in society too. Our Catholic Christianity is a peace-loving religion that helps to hold society together. The constant efforts to devalue it, does not bode well for the future. This year may we treasure the gift of peace and share that gift that lies deep within.