1 January 2000

The Millennium for me is all about the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the fact that it is 2000 years since Jesus Christ came into the world. Now that’s what makes Christianity different from all other religions. Its belief that God became one of us in Jesus Christ. God comes in person to speak to man and to point out the way by which God may be reached. We are going through a period of immense change, very fast change and humanity and society need to grasp the question, “Where do I come from? Where am I going? How do I get there?”

One of the tragic aspects of western society at the moment is that of religious indifference. Many people live as if God did not exist, or, they are happy with a very vague superficial religiosity. The Western World is very highly developed in technology but really impoverished in spirituality. The result is that it tends to forget God or it keeps God at a distance. Another result is that we are not well equipped to come to grips with questions about truth especially in matters of hard choices or crisis.

The fundamental question today is one of faith. By faith I mean a free act by which I accept that Jesus Christ is the truth and I freely commit myself to him. The results of that kind of religious indifference, which we are experiencing here in the West, is a neglect of religious duties. We forget God. We have no place for religion in public life and sometimes even there is no place in private life. An indifference to God leads ultimately to indifference to our neighbour as well. The cause of God nowhere humiliates the cause of the human person. Some people are suspicious that the glory of God will lead to a reduction and humiliation of the human person. The existence of God and His presence in history are the foundation and guarantee of our authentic liberty. It is rather, promises, which are purely worldly, that reduce human persons to slavery, in a totalitarian fashion, as recent history has shown.

All Christians celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ in the world. So the Millennium for me will be an important year along with other Christians to look together to Christ and to renew our faith in him and renew our commitment to him. We look back at what has happened in the past one thousand years and what is happening at present as a condition for looking to the future. As we look back we will see many divisions, of course, and see that people on both sides were to blame, but out of that I would hope that there would come a deep desire to continue to pray for unity. The importance of spiritual ecumenism is vital and the hope is that the widespread discussions with other Churches would continue. Indeed this Holy Year is a call to overcome indifference and division. Not just among Christians but among believers of all nations. But this Holy Year should strengthen Christians in their belief in God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. I keep going back to the problem of religious indifference. My prayer is that the abandonment of the practice of religion will be halted, because really that abandonment of religious practice leads eventually to atheism. People, because they are really weak as regards religious and faith education, come to see religious practice as useless or senseless in their lives.

There has been a lot of talk about moving on here in Ireland in recent times. Hopefully we are moving to a new kind of society where the bitter legacy of division is going to be left behind. Certainly the problem of division, the division between Christians but also the divisions on the grounds of race, the division on politics between Nationalist and Unionist, these divisions hopefully will become less strident and more dialogical.

There is also the division between people who are spiritually minded and those who are materialistically minded. We must address all of those, awaiting for a New Year therefore a new Decade, a new Century, a new Millennium. It is a time for looking forward and a time for looking back. As regards the Church, the Church must commit itself by words and deeds and above all by prayer to creating a culture of life and love. A civilisation which will replace the civilisation of death and hatred. We look back with thanks. We look forward with hope and joy.

The coming of Jesus Christ was the dawn of a new era and yet still two thirds of the world do not know him. And so we look back and critically analyse Church life with a view to getting the energy to continue to try to carry out his command of bringing his message to the ends of the earth.

The time, as we wait for the coming of the new Millennium, the new Decade, the new Century, obviously will be a thoughtful time, a time that is tinged with sadness but nonetheless rich in memories and hopefully very rich in hope and love. Endings are sometimes sad. They remind us of our mortality, our frailty. The Risen Christ tells us that, for his followers endings are never final. God and love last forever.

The Church of Christ must recognise the confusion and the desperation which are found in so many lives and give them new hope and direction. We live in a world that is waiting and searching. The Church must always be a voice for the voiceless. We live in a world that is searching for something new. That search is really for happiness which will last forever. It is a search for fullness of life. A world, dominated by buying and having, eating and drinking, promises everything but knows well that it cannot give true happiness.

Instead it offers a wide variety of substitutes such as superficial amusement, hectic activity, drugs, alcohol, lots of material goods, craving for prestige and power. That is not really what satisfies. We believe and we know from experience that Jesus Christ is alive and present in his Church. That life and that presence is a source of immense hope for the world. We are all called to play our part in announcing that news. We are all called to bring that good news. We are also called to celebrate that hope and that life in our liturgies, in our prayer life, in our community life. We are called to serve that hope by our solidarity with the poor, with those less well off, with the homeless, the asylum seekers. We are to be in solidarity with aids victims, those on the margins of society. The civilisation of love and life has to be built by the followers of Christ. It must be built on the foundations of justice, truth, freedom, solidarity and peace.

My hope for the New Millennium is that civil society would respect its duty to honour the family as the basic building block of society and protect the stability of the marriage bond and the institution of the family. Another hope is that the threats to peace and the causes of war, namely injustice, excessive inequality, envy, lack of trust and pride, be tackled and eliminated. My hope is that the potential of the sacrament of Reconciliation, as a source of pardon and forgiveness and peace, be rediscovered.