Years ago, when I came Scotland, to my shame I admit that my knowledge about this country had been next to nothing, limited to that of ‘men wearing skirts’ and of impressively beautiful landscapes. Leaving behind my homeland, friends, small achievements and the entire past that had shaped me, I started my life here pretty much from scratch, soaking up the culture, language and traditions of Speyside along with its the most famous produce. I don’t want to overrate myself, but I think it was quite a courageous act in response to God’s call; or maybe just an act of mindless recklessness. Whatever the correct perception, I’m here – to your seemingly endless misery.
Today’s gospel presents a short passage from a long speech by Jesus to his disciples at the Last Supper, shortly before his crucifixion. Jesus is encouraging them to persevere in the wake of his departure as he knows that cowardice and fear are real dangers threatening his small community. For the last couple of years he’s been their leader, the one that they could rely on and follow. His departure will leave them on their own, with their fallible judgements and unreliable involvement. Jesus’ arrest confirms his anxieties, when the disciples are being dispersed in terror, and Simon Peter disowns him publicly. It seems that only John, the youngest of the Apostles, is brave enough to follow Jesus to his execution, standing at the foot of the cross with Mary. Somehow Jesus’ death pushes his disciples to gather together again, although the risen Christ finds them locked up, paralysed by fear. Eventually they find their courage, take up the risk and act bravely, paying the ultimate price.
In our current predominantly secular culture, religion is perceived as something rather shameful. Public declarations of religious indifference or of openly anti-religious attitudes are perceived as virtuous, while religious affiliation seems to be a serious vice, treated with scorn and contempt. When our values, priorities and beliefs are being attacked and ridiculed, it’s not easy to keep the head up and own up to Jesus; it is much easier to follow the crowd and adopt the currently fashionable views. Being a Christian today requires quite a thick skin and a substantial dose of courage.
However, we mustn’t lock up ourselves in a besieged stronghold. Actually our mission is keeping our values in order to pass them to others, because they are still valuable. In the 1960s and 70s the so-called sexual revolution ‘liberated’ men and women from containing their sexuality. Widespread and easily available pornography was one of the means of ‘liberation’. Now we can see the results of that ‘liberation’ in the broken lives of many victims of sexual predators and in disintegrated families. Forty years and many damaged lives later, religiously indifferent charities raise the alarm of the devastating effects of pornography, particularly upon teenagers and young people, and call to prevent it. That’s good; it’s just a pity that the lesson has been learned at so high a social cost.
Christians in Western Europe need courage to keep and to live out their values despite being scorned. But we also need courage to look at our values and to revise the way we present them. Today’s world doesn’t want to hear about sin, mortification, or self-restraint; but it doesn’t mean that people have lost interest in values. Par example, one of the top diets now is actually the one kept for centuries in monasteries. A different approach, using modern language and understandable terms, can make Christianity attractive again to many. The first presentation is an attractive and happy life of those who call themselves Christians: me and you.