The century of the great test

113 people from a variety of professions gathered recently in Barcelona to ‘maintain a dialogue between faith and the struggle for a fairer world’.

Meeting under the title, ‘Facing the Century of the Great Test’ they ‘dreamed of a different course for civilisation, which would seek other goals and foster other values; welcoming the stranger, taking care of the weak, making peace with nature, accepting ourselves as the vulnerable mortal beings that we are’.

The key phrase here is ‘faith and the struggle’. In the struggle for a better world, one which faces these four issues of the stranger, the weak, nature and ourselves, we either leave it to others because we don’t want to be involved, or we decide to become engaged at the level we can manage. That level is defined by where we find ourselves and the opportunities open to us. It is also defined by the energy we can draw on.

For the one who believes that Jesus was born in Bethlehem to share in this struggle and open the way for them to be fully engaged – ‘I am sending you out  … I am with you always’ – there is reason to rejoice at Christmas and draw new energy from this ‘with you’, this ‘Emmanuel’. The companionship Jesus invites us to stretches beyond a neat ‘strategic plan’ or ‘manageable objective.’  We cannot be guided by a desire to see results but only by a desire to set in motion a process that is sound. The foundations of my house may be hidden but if the house stands though storms and cyclones it becomes obvious that they are solid.

And the way Jesus lays out is one that stretches us beyond our reach.  We cannot see the future.  We have no ‘proof’ we will succeed. ‘Blessed is she who believed the promise made to her’. Mary asked for no guarantee.  She had no idea how things would work out.  All she knew was that she had been called to a task that seemed impossible. She trusted that the one who called her knew what he was doing.  It was not necessary for her to know more for now.

We are being called to respond to the choices before us in this ‘Century of the Great Test’ as our age has been called.  We face options never before imagined. Fires, floods and drought are affecting the lives of millions each year and the millions will soon be billions.  Those international agencies that offer food to the hungry and shelter to the homeless are stretched to previously unimagined limits. Extraordinary imagination and courage will now be needed if we are to save our planet from becoming uninhabitable.

Many deny there is a problem or they say it is exaggerated.  But the scientists, who go to great trouble to gather their evidence, hammer us day by day with new and alarming facts. In our own part of the world the water pouring over the Victoria Falls is now reduced to a trickle. Surely that should alarm us as we think of what it means.

The message of Christmas comes to us year by year with gathering force. Can we open ourselves to new perspectives?  Can we change? Can we imagine ‘a different course’ for our civilisation? One where tenderness and compassion replace the pursuit of wealth and power? That is ‘the Great Test’. We cannot contract this test out to others – our leaders of states and managers of industry.  It is theirs, but we know it is also for each of us.

Nature itself beckons us. In the northern hemisphere Christmas comes at a barren time of the year. John Milton wrote 400 years ago.

Nature in awe of Him

Had doff’d her gaudy trim,

With her great Master so to sympathise

In our southern hemisphere it is the opposite; crops are planted and the earth is green with hope. Nature offers us a time of barrenness and a time of plenty. Which will we choose?

Christmas 2019


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