Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. In Ireland today, there is an increasing opinion that in order to achieve our potential and realise the ideals stated in the Proclamation of the Republic, we need to do away with God and religion that are perceived as getting in the way of the freedom we want for ourselves and our children. But is this true? Does genuine faith in God hold us back, oppress us and stop us being free? This is a crucial question.
In the first reading this Sunday, Moses comes across the burning bush where a peculiar detail is added to the story. Despite the bush being on fire, it was not being destroyed. The story is a description of what happens when God’s presence comes to interact with his created world. Rather than destroying creation, God’s spirit makes things become more radiant and beautiful. God does not overpower, coerce or consume. His presence and love makes everything glow from within. Of all God’s creation, this is most true of human beings. God created us to be free but in such a way that our freedom is only fully realised with him. Human beings flourish when they enjoy a relationship of friendship with their Creator. This is why the Father sent Jesus into the world to declare: ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full’ (Jn. 10:10). It is why St Irenaeus could say in the early Church that ‘the glory of God is the human person fully alive!’
Of course, many who hear this message will object. Some of these criticisms are valid. The Church has not always showed how faith in God brings out the best in us. At times, God was portrayed as an oppressive master that reduced people to a fearful obedience. With this and in the aftermath of the Church’s problems in recent years, there is a new drive to convince us that we would be better off without God and religion and that teaching ‘fairy stories’ (a term used by some journalists to describe the Gospels) to our children is a waste of time.
I believe that this is a mistake. We must not rush to cut ourselves adrift from our Christian roots that have served us well for centuries. It should be noted that this was certainly not the intention of the fathers of our nation either. In fact there are no guarantees that freedom from God will deliver the freedom we crave. There is evidence that this new liberation from God, morality and religion is leading to new forms of slavery: drugs, crime and social instability to name but a few. In the words of a Bob Dylan song, in our efforts to be free, we are becoming ‘tangled up in blue’.
All the more reason then for us Catholic Christians to think about our faith in God and what effect that has on our lives and on society. A crucial part of this question is the God that we believe in. There are many false images of God but there is only one God – the God who leads us out of slavery to freedom, from darkness to light, from despair to hope. This is our God who revealed himself to us in Jesus as a God of mercy and truth, the God of beauty and justice who wants nothing more for us than to be free and prosper, beginning with his gift of inner peace and joy.
God is not the enemy of humanity or its competitor. His spirit does not overpower us, control us or oppress us. He wants the best for us and with him, we become the best possible version of ourselves we can be. So don’t pull away from God or turn away. Come close to the fire. You will not get burned but will catch the glow and heat.