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Opinion

New Year, New Resolution

Friday 7 January 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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New Year, New Resolution
Bishop Paul Donoghue of the Catholic Church.

New Year is traditionally a time for most of us to make resolutions for the year, writes Bishop Paul Donoghue of the Catholic Church.

Personal resolutions around extending ourselves in the work place, in the classroom, at sport and with regards to our health are all worthwhile and if kept, do improve our quality of life.

Today in this article I encourage all of us to continue reflecting at the beginning of 2022 as we deal with the realities we face because of Covid -19 and ask:

  • “Am I open to new possibilities in the way I relate with others?”
  • “Do I have the courage to make a New Year’s resolution to be more neighbourly in my relations with others?”
  • Those of us who are vaccinated, how do we relate with those who have chosen not to be vaccinated?
  • This year 2022 will have the country involved in a general election. How will I relate with people who have contrary political views from mine?
  • On the religious front how do we deal with those who have differing views, for example, on gender issues as expressed by the LGBTQ+ community?

I was recently relooking at the phrase, “No man is an island”. I understand John Donne (1572-1631) wrote those words 400 years ago. The author I was reading made the point that these words are as true now as they were in Donne’s day, except we don’t believe them anymore. In one sense Covid has caused us to become more isolated. Foreign travel is still next to impossible. Our borders have remained closed, to the outside world. While the internet has been a tremendous help most of us would say that getting together and interacting personally with people is still the ideal. We have experienced that it is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”. Connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness. 

The author commenting on the statement “No man is an island” pointed out that “today more of us are beginning to define our nuclear families and our carefully chosen circle of friends precisely as our self-sufficient island, and are becoming  increasingly selective as to who is allowed on our island; into our circle of friends, and into the circle of those we deem worthy of respect. We define and protect our “personal islands” by a particular belief, view of politics, view of morality, view of gender, and view of religion. Anyone who doesn’t share our view is unwelcome and not worthy of our time and respect.”

So the tendency is to find ourselves on separate islands, not open to listen, to respect, or to dialogue with anyone not of our own kind. Anyone who disagrees with me is not worthy of my time, my ear, and my respect. This seems to be a popular attitude among some people today. Just listen to callers on talk back radio laying down the law.

It is timely to relook at the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10: 25 – 37) – The question asked by the lawyer is “Who is my neighbour”? In response Christ tells the story of a person who has been robbed, stripped and beaten on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Two people, a priest and Levite, notice the wounded man but pass by on the other side of the road without helping him. A Samaritan then encounters the victim but instead of walking by takes pity on him, attends to his wounds, and brings him to an inn where he pays for his care. This Samaritan, the lawyer correctly surmises is the one who has been neighbourly, and whose actions now he must emulate to fulfill the imperative of neighbourly love.

The first point I make is to note that Jesus does not describe the crime which has taken place nor does he seek the identity of the criminals. All the attention is the response of love. The lawyer’s question asking who is my neighbour has been raised to a new level of how we become neighbours to one another.

Let us not cut ourselves off from someone who has different views from ourselves or ignore them which is portrayed by the attitude of the priest and the Levite. If we are going to be neighbourly it is going to involve time and attention. The decision to stop and not pass by came before deciding to provide assistance. The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus has shifted our understanding. It is not seeing the other as someone like myself, but having the ability to make myself like the other. Communication is really about realising that we are all human beings and all children of God. When we give time and attention respectfully with someone who has different views from our own, we are being neighbourly.

What can we learn from the priest and Levite? These two were supposedly grounded in religion and were living out their commitment to God. But they did not include the wounded man within their field of attention and concern. Whereas the Samaritan was able to interrupt his journey, change his plans, and expectedly come to the aid of the injured person who needed help. The priest and Levite did not attend the injured man because he did not fit their field of concern; or their duties; social status and professional position within society. The injured man was certainly irrelevant to their plans. He could be ignored and forgotten.

Can I see myself in the priest and Levite? Do I have a long list of people I exclude from being neighbourly with? Those who hold different political views from me? Those who belong to other religions and beliefs? Those who associate with the Rainbow community? The point of the good Samaritan story is that to be neighbourly I have to be open to all. If I have become self-interested, inward looking I have become the priest or the Levite and am passing by on the other side of the road.

Recently we have been very much focused on celebrating the work of the Gospel for 200 years in the Cook Islands, beginning on Aitutaki. Speakers at the occasion reminded us that the work of Christ is not finished. Pope Benedict made a comment on how we should use the Gospel today. This appeals to me. “Effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others, by patiently and respectively engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for truth and the meaning of human existence.”

In order to be more available to others, my New Year’s resolution in light of this statement and what I have written would be as follows: In 2022 I want to be able to dialogue with men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubt and hopes, and to bring them the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whom we have just welcomed anew during the Christmas festivities. By using the word “dialogue” I hope to be able to believe that the other has something worthwhile to say. Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions but rather, renouncing the claim that they alone are valid or absolute.

May the image of the Good Samaritan who tended the wounds of the injured man by pouring oil and wine over them be our inspiration.