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.