the Way we Live Today
A Lenten Reflection for 2024
Most Rev. William Crean, Bishop of Cloyne
These observations are meant to stimulate your own
Personal reflection and prayer this Lent. Can we use this
Season of Grace to probe a little deeper around what’s
happening within us and among us as a society in
general and as a pilgrim people of faith?
My friends in Christ,
In the midst of various recent events in society in Ireland more and more of us are asking what is happening to our “soul” in the midst of all the change in every facet of life. The following observations seek to encourage reflection on how we individually and together nurture an interior balance in our lives.
Our Context Today
For centuries the Christian message has been imbedded in our culture – through the ministry of the Church primarily. That relationship has changed dramatically in just a generation or two as we can see in smaller and older congregations. On a wider level it is evident in fewer vocations to priesthood and religious life. This is commonly referred to as the “beginning of the end”. It certainly marks the end of a particular kind of relationship between the Church and the people of God. It begs the question for all – what type of relationship is now evolving or happening?
Thankfully we still see the Season of Lent as a time of renewal and so we tend to focus on some personal sacrifice during Lent which is a wholesome response. The strong link of that sacrifice with the needs of the poor has continued to be reflected in people’s generosity.
All the while, as people disconnect with the Church as parish and community of faith, there is less and less interior space for a Christian spiritual focus in the lives of many. The outcome is two-fold. The parish community is deprived of its most essential self – a people who gather for prayer, and those who choose not to participate, develop a life style where Christian spirituality evaporates from life. An observer of this phenomenon in society phrased it that “God had gone missing and wasn’t missed”.
Covid, Climate and Conflict
A pattern of life that has lingered apparently from our experience of Covid 19 is a reluctance to get back to a pre-Covid engagement with life, and this seems to apply to young and old. It is clear that issues of mental health seem to affect an increasing proportion of society. The combination of Covid, Climate change and Conflict on a global scale has created nervousness and anxiety for many, that comes from a sense of powerlessness in the face of many forces of darkness. Surely, this touches on what is happening to people’s understanding of and search for an interior resource for personal serenity?
It is common for people to state that “they are spiritual but not religious”. This statement captures a trend in society where religion has taken on a negative quality in people’s search for personal spirituality.
Religion has frequently been castigated for its judgemental and moralistic tendency. There are some good grounds for this view from our experience. However, it does a disservice to it’s true nature and purpose. The Gospel of Jesus, the Christ, is Good News for a world in search of harmony and peace.
These observations prompt us to ask the question of ourselves individually, personally, in family/marriage/work/commerce “Are we forgetting something here”? Given the relentless pressure for results, the meeting of goals, the achievement of points, is there a robotic quality seeping into life that is de-humanising us without our noticing?
Searching for an everyday spirituality that sustains us
The actual use of the word spirituality is recent enough. How can we define it? It can be described as our understanding of our relationship with self, others and the Divine. A wholesome spirituality enables us to keep a healthy connection between our sense of self-worth, our connection with one another and the Divine, however we understand it in its mystery. Most spiritual visions are closely linked to the profession of a particular religion e.g. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Judaism etc. And within these there are “schools” of spirituality also. A more common feature of our time is the focus on nature itself as a Divine presence.
Our lives are works in progress. Each new day invites us to embrace our experience in a spirit of opportunity. The search for personal peace and serenity comes by way of having a sense of direction and purpose for living. We yearn for that which is real, authentic and enduring. While many understandably have felt let down by the “institutional” Church it would worsen the sense of loss if it led to feeling shut out from the joy and hope of the person of Jesus, our Saviour.
In our search for a spiritual vision or understanding we can so easily fail to appreciate the richness of the Christian spiritual path we’ve been introduced to from our childhood. In our case it has been the Christian way, in the Catholic Tradition. In our search for inspiration and wisdom we naturally roam widely while often the treasure we seek is closer to home. This tendency to think of that which is foreign as being exotic reminds me of a quote from George A. Moore – “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it!”.
May this Lenten Season be a source of grace and renewal for us all.
+ Wm. Crean