As I write more than half the world’s population has already entered the first year of the second decade of this new millennium and, having checked the BBC news, the ongoing story of human suffering, from war, terrorism, weather extremes, the continued expanse of poverty, remains as old as the human yearning for peace, dignity, hope.
As he ushered in the Holy Year to begin the new millennium, Pope John Paul noted in a homily for January 1st, 2000, then and now both the Solemnity of Mary our Mother and the World Day of Prayer for Peace, that: “We are beginning to write a new page of history. Yesterday evening we looked back at the past, at how the world was when the second millennium began. Today, beginning the Year 2000, we cannot but wonder about the future: what direction will the great human family take in this new phase of its history?”
Eighteen months later, a date seared in human memory as 9/11, we crossed a new threshold into a reality, still ongoing, of persistent hatred and terrorism.
As we leave the first decade of the new millennium and begin the second Pope Benedict, in his message for this day, states very simply and powerfully: “The world needs God………..Peace is a gift of God and at the same time a task which is never fully completed. A society reconciled with God is closer to peace……..peace is the result of a process of purification and of cultural, moral and spiritual elevation involving each individual and people, a process in which human dignity is fully respected……..”
Pope Leo XIII was both the last Pontiff of the 19th century and the first of the 20th and directing his words in the first instance to the people of France, who in 1892 were in the midst of real anti-Church, anti-Catholic struggle, foresaw the very concerns of Pope Benedict XVI about the tremendous pressure brought against believers by political and cultural forces in our day: “First of all, let us take as a starting-point a well-known truth admitted by all men of good sense and loudly proclaimed by the history of all peoples; namely, that religion, and religion only, can create the social bond; that it alone maintains the peace of a nation on a solid foundation….”
During the protracted negotiations after the armistice which ended the fighting of World War 1, Pope Benedict XV expressed his concerns, noting: “There is no need from us of long proof to show that society would incur the risk of great loss if, while peace is signed, latent hostility and enmity were to continue among the nations. There is no need to mention the loss of all that maintains and fosters civil life, such as commerce and industry, art and literature, which flourish only when the nations are at peace. But what is even more important, grave harm would accrue to the form and essence of the Christian life, which consists essentially in charity and the preaching of which is called the Gospel of peace.”
I mention the above from Popes Leo and Benedict to stress the critical importance, in the midst of all the traditional secular celebrating that occurs with New Year’s Day, it IS the World Day of Prayer for Peace.
The secular world is very adept at urging various forms of solidarity for basically important causes such as disaster relief, protection of the environment, democratic, civil, human rights for everyone – but these humanitarian efforts will never achieve their goal, no matter how laudable, if we forget who we are: human beings, that is redeemed persons who, cut off from Jesus, ultimately, can achieve nothing, but in Him and with Him, all things are possible.
“The world needs God.”