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Friday 18 January 2019

It only matters how we treat one another

Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

An article in 'The New Yorker' magazine caught my attention over Christmas. Award-winning journalist Louis Menard wrote a piece about whether or not Einstein believed in God. It begins about Einstein's so-called God letter, which was sold by auction in Christie's in New York in early December for $2.9 million.

A short 10 years earlier the letter made $404,000 at a British auction house. Not a bad return on an investment. And does it add weight to the generally held view that there's money in religion?

At the end of 'The New Yorker' article Menard argues that Einstein is saying in the letter that it doesn't matter what our religious or philosophical commitments are. The only thing that matters is how we treat one another. Menard quips that he doesn't think it takes a genius to figure that out and goes on to say: 'But it's nice that one did'.

In churches, that throughout the year are sparsely attended, there was standing room only for Christmas Mass. In one Mass that I celebrated I was told there were 800 people in attendance. That's a lot of people and they had come to church to pray and celebrate the feast that was in it. Maybe there were some there for other reasons. So be it.

We were of course celebrating the Christian belief that Jesus Christ becomes man. Isn't that what Christmas is about? Or at least it's the original idea why we make such a big occasion of the last days of December.

At all the Masses over Christmas the Gospel stories recounted the birth of Christ. We read how Mary was told not to be afraid, how his name means 'God is with us' and that 'the Word was with God and the Word was God'. Certainly a lot of food for thought in all the words and ideas that were spoken in churches over the Christmas.

Words are fascinating. Their use, the meaning, the tone in which we say something is all part of the cocktail that gives expression to what we say, or at least what we are trying to say.

So often in our daily exchange of ideas we can be misunderstood. Imagine what it must be like when we try to say something about God? Surely it must be all-too-easy to fall into saying words and expressing ideas about God that are ridiculously meaningless.

I keep saying to myself anytime we ever try to say a word or indeed anything about God we need to be extremely careful. As the German Army pillaged, burned and raped its way across Europe in World War II every soldier had inscribed on his belt 'God is with us'. Can it get more absurd than that?

While all words are fascinating and involve elements or aspects of nuance and interpretation, words about God are super-fascinating. Yes, it can be difficult to say anything about God, God's name is extraordinary, that God becomes man is extraordinary. But aren't many aspects of our lives extrordinary, from birth to death.

People who filled our churches this Christmas gave me a glimpse of our search for the wonder, the extraordinariness of our lives and that includes our search for God.

Maybe there is the temptation to be far too filled with our own importance, our own certainty, to miss the wonder of all creation in front of our eyes, including the existence of God.

There can be something exciting and exhilarating in our lifelong search for God.

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