A FEW WEEKS AGO we celebrated at school our Year 6 Leavers’ Mass. This is always a poignant and emotional occasion, for parents as much as for children (possibly more so). For many, a ‘tear-jerker’ is this contemporary hymn, written by Eugene O’Reilly, which has been sung on this occasion for many years:
We are children, children of the Light
We are shining in the darkness of the night
Hope for this world, joy throughout the land.
Touch the hearts of everyone, take everybody’s hand.
Come and gather round the flame, share the light in his name
We the children of the light
As the wind blows where it will, spread the news to everyone
There’s still plenty of time, for we have just begun.
Join the song of all the earth, we’ve a dream a dream to share
And a promise of re-birth
Let the earth feel the warmth of his love here in our hearts
We’ve still many a dream and promises to keep
When there’s a lot of gloom in the world and in our own country, words like this which speak of the future in terms of young people are salutary. One of the purposes of Catholic schools is to prepare for the future of the Church and the world through spiritual formation alongside intellectual and other areas; a sinful tendency among those of us who are no longer young, a tendency universal in human history, is to moan about and disparage the young, oblivious of how earlier generations have made a mess of things. There is one phrase in the chorus which is particularly striking at this time: ‘we are shining in the darkness of the night, hope for this world…’
Christian theology and teaching uses language and imagery about darkness and light a great deal. The picture in our Newsletter (click here) shows Pope Francis carrying his own candle at the Easter Vigil in St Peter’s Basilica, as he follows with everyone else the great Paschal Candle into the church, as we all do every year. This imagery is particularly important at Easter, but it’s relevant all the year round. We’re conscious of a lot of darkness in the world at the moment, identified with sin and the reality of evil, the presence of Satan – in our own country, in the rest of Europe, in the rest of the world: made very real in nationalism, racism, hatred, selfishness, corruption, fawning upon the rich and serial untruthfulness. Many of us have probably seldom felt so pessimistic or gloomy about the future of this country as we do now, on the basis of the teachings of the Catholic Church. The reasons for this are legion, but there is one rather neglected issue which I think sums it all up: the moral character of politicians.
It is claimed rather often that the private life of a politician or other public figure is irrelevant to his or her public and political role (I suppose people might think this about bishops, but we had better not go there). It is therefore seen as some sort of bizarre infringement of someone’s human rights if allegedly ‘private’ things about him or her are raised in public debate or during an election.
In Beckenham, of course, if we were living here in 1997, we would know that such a view is false and was false then. Some of you will remember that the Member of Parliament for this constituency was involved in a scandal during the General Election of that year, which rapidly pushed our community into the headlines. Some of us publicly expressed the view that he’d brought scandal on Beckenham, for which we received a lot of written abuse; having hoodwinked his party during the campaign he was exposed as a liar later in the year and had to resign. But the point of the criticism is this: if a public figure is unfaithful to his or her spouse and commits adultery (the subject of the sixth of the Ten Commandments), and if he or she (and to be honest it’s usually he) then lies repeatedly about what has happened, then this is important.
All of us are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness, and when we repent and ask for God’s forgiveness then he forgives us when we go to Confession; but the way we behave has a message, it says something about the sort of person we are. If you are unfaithful to your wive(s) and lie about your conduct, why should constituents, or voters, trust what you say to them?
None of us keeps our lives in separate compartments – how we act in one area of our lives affects what we do in other areas. How on earth can people not see this? Indifference to this is a sign of how far a country can turn its back on God and on basic standards of morality. What is depressing when looking at the years since 1997 is that the debate, the discussion, is not even taking place now. How much lower can a country sink?
It’s really down to our children – ‘Children of the light…hope for this world’.