Monday 20 January 2020

Pope's message is sure to provide hope in a sometimes hopeless world

If life without faith is so great, why are incidences of suicide among children increasing at a worrying rate, asks Wendy Grace

Antidote: Pope Francis is a model of simplicity and humility
Antidote: Pope Francis is a model of simplicity and humility

Last week the HSE published 'Harm Reduction' guidelines on taking cocaine and crack 'safely'. Apparently usage has increased since some people have more cash in their pockets. Yes it's like the good old Celtic Tiger days, remember them? Let's just skip past what happened when the Tiger became a rather lifeless kitty.

Because now the Tiger, or some sort of cat with lots of lives and a bad memory, is back. Except it's even better this time because not only are we all going to be rich again, we're finally free of the Catholic Church.

We're kind of cosmopolitan hipsters, we have avo on toast and matcha green tea lattes. Sure, we even have a gay Taoiseach who is best pals with Trudeau, and U2 will still sing a few tunes for Ireland if it helps our new image.

But, if life without faith is so great, why are incidences of self-harm and suicide among young children increasing at a worrying rate? Why do we have the second highest rate of binge-drinking in the world? Why do we have one of the highest per capita gambling loss rates in the world? And why, in order to feel a temporary 'high', would some people snort a dangerous and illegal substance up their nose?

Could part of the explanation be that there is a God- shaped hole in us that we are desperately trying to fill with anything that will provide fleeting moments of happiness, only to find ourselves emptier than we felt before we indulged in drink, drugs, sex or spending sprees?

Some recent scandals have highlighted an Ireland where power, profit, and protectionism seem to trump the best interest of the people. So what is the antidote?

Perhaps Pope Francis, who has become known as 'The People's Pope', will have some words of wisdom when he visits Ireland later this summer.

Already people, from all faiths and none, have been fascinated to hear what Pope Francis has to say about holding those in power to account, fighting for the poor, the oppressed, and our planet. He warns of 'throw-away' culture where things, and even people, are used and discarded.

When the World Meeting of Families was announced, organisers were nervous that filling the Phoenix Park might be a little ambitious. We have shaken off the whole Catholic Ireland thing after all, right? Yet it didn't take long for over half-a-million people to snap up tickets to see Pope Francis in August, and tickets for events in the RDS, Croke Park and Knock are all sold out.

Will people be turning up in their droves out of curiosity, or is there a deep longing for something more?

Perhaps people are interested in Pope Francis and what he has to say because it is much closer to the message of the most talked about and written about figure in history, Jesus Christ, than people have heard for a while.

Understandably, wounds inflicted by people in the past make it hard for some to journey back to God, but Francis, who is communicating in new ways the old wisdom of the Catholic faith, is helping to be that bridge for many.

It might not do any harm to ditch Netflix for a few days and listen to what he will say. Even if you're just the 'hatched, matched, and dispatched' a-la-carte type of Catholic, maybe the Church has more to offer you.

We could be open to the proposition of looking at life differently and listening to the gospel message the Pope is trying to get us to reconsider. A life where simplicity brings joy, where less can be more, and happiness can be experienced in the most profound way by being selfless.

People talk about 'The Francis Effect' and the influence Pope Francis has had in inviting Catholics to come home to the Church. He is passionate about a Church that is closer to people amidst the reality of their everyday lives, for a Church that reaches out, like a field hospital, to those most in need, and communicating in a more accessible way. His encyclical, 'Laudato Si' (Care of our Common Home), brought together faith, science, and academia in a piece of writing that commentators argued had the potential to transform the global discussion on climate change.

In his recent letter 'Amoris Laetitia' (The Joy of Love), the wisdom he shares on how we can better love in our relationships and communities may surprise you. It has the potential to strengthen and invigorate marriages and families.

I think, when Pope Francis visits Ireland, his message will be consistent with his Papacy. One that is not imposing but proposing the same gospel message in a new way. All along he has been urging us to rail against individualism, and selfishness, and not let the 'globalisation of indifference' take hold.

Can we all, just for a moment, stand still, silence the relentless noise of our lives, and listen to a message that can be an antidote to the hollow promises of fulfilment that much of modern-day culture nearly always fail to bring us.

For thousands of years, for billions of people, faith has been a light in the darkness and a refuge from chaos. It has set people free from anxiety and addictions, and provided hope in a sometimes hopeless world. It might even be a good idea for the 'New Ireland' to be truly libertarian and have an open mind to Pope Francis's visit at the end of August.

And, maybe, he will issue some guidelines of his own, only these won't cost a thing and might just provide a happiness that lasts.

  • Wendy Grace is a journalist and broadcaster with Spirit Radio

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