Holy Week & Easter 2017 (click on link to download PDF)

The Rector writes…

24th May is the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, a title dear to the Catholics of China, and it is the designated annual day of prayer for China and its peoples. For such a vast nation both in territory and number (with a profound and complex history) the idea which most of us have is of a post Cultural Revolution closed society in which freedom of expression is seriously curtailed. A recent book with the title “The Souls of China: The Return of Religion after Mao” (written by Ian Johnson, and published by Allen Lane) offers a very different picture. In the last forty or so years China has moved from zero tolerance of worship to more than 350 million believers in Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity. This figure is all the more remarkable when computed against a background of governmental expectation that religion in China would fade away and become extinct. It has come about in a country where the policies of the regime have ranged from heavy-handed oppression to grudging acceptance. Back in the 4th century, Saint Augustine had said: “no one denies God unless they have some reason for wanting him not to exist”.

The upsurge of religion in China is here explained as a reaction to an ethical crisis. An official opinion poll of 2014 had 88% of respondents agreeing that society was suffering from “a social disease of moral decay and lack of trust”, while a Christian publisher is quoted (in a review article by Roger Garside) as stating: “people cannot believe how corrupt society has become”. In a nation once ruled more by ethics than laws, in which religion and community cohesion were inseparable, many apparently now regret “the absence of a moral compass”. What China is experiencing today can be mirrored in other countries where officially atheistic regimes have tried to eradicate religion only to discover that it was they who were proved to have passed their sell-by date. Russia is a case in point, as is Albania – in both countries, Christian Orthodoxy has emerged from years of persecution refreshed and reinvigorated. Clearly 21st century Britain where Christianity remains “by law established” is in a very different situation from China, Russia or Albania, but there may still be lessons to be learned here from their resurgent Christianity.

In all cultures there are examples of ethical convergence, some isolated, some interrelated, as an expression of  the one human nature, willed by the Creator; the tradition of ethical wisdom knows this as the natural law” (Benedict XVI). Catholic social teaching builds on the understanding that there is a shared intuition which senses the need for a moral compass: ethical questions are determined correctly by discernment of a shared conscience. Clearly, we must always be aware of the negativity of evil and its spoiling potential, as we must be concerned for the mature formation of the faculty of choice within individuals and societies – but the Holy Spirit is at work urging, guiding and clarifying and we should have confidence that where there is a genuine desire to serve the common good, we will not be left to flounder on our own. In these days leading into a General Election we should be calling on the Holy Spirit to help us make judgements which accord with the natural law, or rather, (given that modern political parties are coalitions of views) which do least damage to the demands of that natural law.

Christianity, of course, offers so much more than just a moral compass. While, quite rightly, we should be trying to build consensus, and to work alongside those of differing faith backgrounds in a common endeavour, we must hold to the belief that the Incarnate Word provides unique insight into the right direction of this world. We might feel a certain embarrassment at the C S Lewis view that “the people who keep on asking if they can’t lead a decent life without Christ, don’t know what life is about “ but questions about the interconnection between morality and religion will not go away, and whenever a society thinks it can forgo the second and maintain the first, history would seem to witness to the contrary – sometimes with appalling consequences.

Christopher Colven