When Alexis Tsipras was inaugurated as the new prime minister in Greece he refused to take the religious oath before the Orthodox Archbishop on the grounds that he was an atheist. There’s a bit of honesty in that. But his refusal points to a growing concern in the West and especially in Europe, namely the rise of secularism. Secularism takes God out of the picture. For many this may seem tantalisingly attractive. It paves the way for that most cherished of modern ideas, namely, the self made man and self made woman. It’s the human being come of age where we can now make of ourselves who we want to be. But it this the case? Do we really make ourselves? Do we not shape and are shaped by each other to a high degree? Accident of birth, education and family life have all a huge bearing on who we are. And then who provided this beautiful earth for us to inhabit in the first place? It’s hardly the work of our human genius. In his recent encyclical Pope Francis calls this same magnificent planet our home, a home without which we could never even come into existence.
One of the central questions facing all of us is what is life about and what do we do with our lives? Those of us older folk can look back on 30, 50 and even 60 years and ask of ourselves how did we envision the future? What were our plans? How did we hope to grow up? Did things work out as planned them or are we now doing something with our lives that we never imagined. Finally was not the hand and heart of God there with us in the midst of it all? Perhaps more than we can ever realise it was the God of Jesus Christ who enabled us to be open to new callings that we otherwise might never have dreamt of answering.
The Christian view of life is very different. We were made by God for God’s glory and honour. ‘The glory of God is the human person fully alive’ says St Irenaeus. Furthermore we were made for relationship with a living and loving God. And it is a loving God that intervenes in today’s readings. Being a prophet was never on Amos’ to-do list. On the contrary, he did not even want to be associated with the guilds of prophets, whose frenzied ecstasies were strange and difficult to discern. But God called him to preach out against oppression and today we see that he met with resistance from high places for doing this.
The call of the Apostles is an even more dramatic instance of God stepping into one’s life and turning it right around. They saw their future as fisherman, or tax collecting and in one case a freedom fighter. Today Jesus is commissioning them to go out and preach the good news of God’s reign. He gives them authority over unclean spirits but they are to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. In other words they are not to be restricted by unnecessary baggage. It is the message of Jesus that counts and his great desire for a world that is more whole, one freed from the forces of evil that enslave and dehumanize us. Perhaps there is a clue here for all of us. We can find real meaning in our lives by dedicating ourselves to promoting God’s reign.
For our young people facing the future is a big ask. What do they do with their lives? What steps do they take? Which direction must they choose? These can be exciting times but also scary and intimidating. However for the Christian these same questions can be addressed far more meaningfully and with less panic than for the secularist. A case in point is Cardinal Newman. He was a famous Anglican in the 19th century who eventually became a Catholic. He too was attempting to find his way in life. But notice how he went about it. He began by expressing his trust in God and in God’s will for him:
“God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission — I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. … I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep the commandments.
“Therefore, I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. … He does nothing in vain.”
For Cardinal Newman, the real question is a matter of trust in God. God has a huge interest in your life and in your future. And God will reveal in time, through parents, friends, acquaintances or little perchance meetings that can open up a whole new world. The fact is that for the Christian God is on our side and there is no need to fear. In Ephesians today Paul tells us that in Jesus, we were also chosen, called and commissioned to give praise and glory to God by serving the needs of others.
Sunday 12 July 2015