Thursday, November 30, 2006

How Civilized are We?


During the first week of Advent, I attended the mission being held at our chapel. A mission is short series of talks (in this case three evenings) usually held by a visitor to the church, designed to inspire or catechise those present.

The visiting priest spoke on "Journeying" over the course of his three talks. I was able to attend only the 2nd talk, which was on Peter, the apostle.

The talk was very good. The point was that God loved Peter. Indeed, He started his Church on Peter. If we read scripture, we see that Peter had some rather noteable weaknesses or sins.

As we know we are all sinners, it should be very comforting to us to know that God loves us even when we sin. Without sin and reconciliation, we would not be able to experience God's forgiveness and mercy.

Many people grow closer to God when they are struggling against sin in their lives.

The talk swung a bit into the realm of impetuousness. Peter acted quickly and cut off the ear of a soldier.

Someone brought up the genocide in Rwanda...countrymen rising up against each other and killing many of them.

We speculated that many can act in very sinful ways when they find themselves under some sort of pressure.

Something occurred to me very strongly at this point.

We spent several weeks last year in Bosnia. This country is in central Europe, yet just a few years ago, its people were killing each other. Neighbour was rising up against neighbour. Where we were wasn't even a war zone!

I don't think we realize just how close any one of us is to participating in an atrocity of this sort. The veneer of civilization is very thin. If we scratch it just a bit, anywhere, we find human nature can be very cruel.

In the Balkans, many were killed or displaced due to religious differences. In Bosnia, Serbian Orthodox rose up against Catholics and Muslims. In what is now Croatia, Catholics rose up against the Orthodox.

This area is one of the oldest bastions of Christianity in the world! Yet the peaceful message of Christianity was dismissed so quickly and by so many when the opportunity arose.

In Rwanda, one ethnic group rose up against another, resulting in many deaths.

One common link here is that both of these areas had been ruled by another party. In the Balkans, it was Tito's regime that kept the lid on age old tensions. In Rwanda, the Belgians had colonized and used one group of natives to rule the other, resulting in rivalry.

Once the 'foreign' rule was gone, suppressed tensions rose quickly.

I did not care to take it up with the assembled group, but I remembered the "FLQ Crisis" in Canada in 1970. I"m not sure if it applies in quite the same way, but I'll speculate.

In 1970, the FLQ (Federation de Liberation de Quebec), a terrorist group, kidnapped and killed James Cross. They were trying to somehow gain Quebec's "freedom" from the rest of Canada.

The Prime Minister at the time, Pierre Trudeau, acted decisively and imposed the War Measures Act, which meant that the entire country was plunged into a situation where civil rights were restricted as they might be in a time of war.

I was a small child at the time, and living almost entirely across the country from where the action was, but I remember feeling afraid. My father, a member of the RCMP, Canada's national police force, was gone from home (battle readiness I suppose). I remember commenting to my mother some time later that they news kept talking about this situation long after the crisis subsided. She, correctly, told me that we would be talking about it for years to come.

In Quebec, the Church and the provincial government had made a sort of arrangement which, according to citizens of the province many years later, worked toward giving more advantages to the English citizens of the province than to the Francophone majority.

After the death of Premier Duplessis, this arrangement fell apart. The FLQ arose apparently to shake off the yoke imposed by either English Canada, or by the Catholic Church.

Soon, a separatist government surfaced in Quebec. The practice of Catholicism plummeted.

A couple of years ago, I was talking with my mother on the phone. She lives in the West. We are in Ontario. She made a comment about the 'big French families'. I had to break the news to her that those families were rare now. She was shocked. In fact, the birth rate in Quebec is lower than the already low rate for the rest of Canada. Large families have traditionally been synonymous with the practice of Catholicism.

Quebec no longer has Catholic schools. According to a Quebecois chaplain I knew, everyone in Quebec was baptised, but any formation after that was unusual. Baptism is as much a cultural practice there as it is in the rest of the country. Any connection to the Catholic faith is incidental.

I guess my point in all this is to caution against the Church becoming associated with any ruling party. I believe that the Church should speak out strongly against its members who participate in evil practices, in order to avoid the appearance of collusion on the part of the Church.

Human beings are weak, as was Peter. We can get caught up in emotions and practices that are evil very easily when we do not have strong leadership...and sometimes even WITH strong leadership. We need strong leadership from our Church to help us preserve the veneer of civility when so much around us may be drawing us into places we should not go.

God Bless

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