Last Sunday in my sermon I claimed that Jesus’ main job wasn’t healing people of their sicknesses. It seems that today’s gospel is contrary to that statement of mine, as we can see a leper cured by the Lord. Perhaps you know that the last person in the whole universe to own up his own mistake is a clergyman. So because I am a clergyman you now know what’s going to happen: I will try to convince you I was right, against the facts.
In recent weeks a book has been published: the writer declares himself to be an atheist but, unlike his militant ‘brothers in arms’, he can see many useful aspects that religion as a whole provides to the life of an individual or the life of a community. He proposes the adoption of many religious elements like sacraments, assemblies and so forth, but the rejection of – as he calls it – superstitious and irrational ideas of God himself. The book has been hailed as a new, fresh idea. But it is not. In communist countries their people were ideologically deprived of religious beliefs; but to fill the void communist rulers introduced personality cult, party meetings, huge parades and rallies, indoctrination and so on. These are elements of religion, but without God. Latterly we saw the idea in action when ‘the Great and Beloved Leader’ of North Korea died.
On 17 December 2011 a young jobless postgraduate in a provincial Tunisian city set fire to himself in protest against a lawless action of the local police against him. Until that day, unpunished and corrupt officers along with local officials had abused their authority. They got away with it because the whole country was governed in an authoritarian way. The sacrifice of Mohamed Bouazizi sparked wider protests and finally overthrew the old regime. A powerful dictator was defeated by a powerless and defenceless individual.
I bet some of you here remember those days when this church was packed full every Sunday. Within one generation the number of people regularly attending Mass has more than halved. It’s not been happening only within the Catholic Church; some Christian denominations are even in bigger trouble. Some churches have been desolated because of the dramatic decrease of local population in remote spots. Years ago in the Glenlivet area there were three separate parishes, vibrant and flourishing, with devout congregations. Nowadays the only Sunday Mass in Glenlivet gathers thirty-odd people; the churches are surrounded by fields and woods with only a few households in sight. Beautifully decorated but empty they are signs of their past glory.
Exactly one year and one week ago, I started my retreat from the dangerous territory of obesity. Endangered by deteriorating health and my shameful physical condition, I was pretty desperate to do something. I was fed up with common opinions and urban myths that turned out to be useless. So the first step was finding someone who could help me. I watched a 60-minute TV documentary and it was a kind of revelation. From the very next morning I started following what I’d learnt. Sometimes doing better, sometimes worse, I kept to the routine. Several weeks later people around me started noticing the change. Some of them courageously asked me about it. A further several weeks later I noticed that some of them started losing weight too.
Last Tuesday my mum was due to fly back home. Because of uncertain weather conditions I decided to go to Glasgow a day before the flight and stay there overnight. The plan seemed to be perfect until its very end when the flight was cancelled because of the gale. We had to come back to Buckie. Miraculously we got home despite trees and lorries lying across the roads. The wind was so strong I felt I was flying a plane rather than driving a car.
New Year is a contractual, artificial date. It’s not associated with any particular change in nature or with an astronomical event such as a solstice or equinox. However, this is a good opportunity to summarize the last 365 days and to think about the forthcoming ones. Actually, the summary of the last year is the main content of newspapers, radio and television. There are also some predictions made, although these say more about their creators than the future itself. Anyway it’s good to have such a watershed; at least to delude ourselves that we can change something along with the slogan: ‘New Year – new you’.