Is there a problem with the Vatican’s chosen theme for Church World Day of Peace 2016?
The selected theme, announced earlier this month, is “Overcome indifference and win peace”.
How can anyone object to such a worthy concept? Of course, at face value, it is hard to imagine how anyone can.
A problem, though, is that it suggests one is either indifferent,
or one is passionate. And for huge numbers of people that is unrealistic and unfair.
Synonyms for indifference include “lack of concern about, apathy about/towards, lack of interest in, disregard for, obliviousness to, coldness, coolness, lack of feeling, lack of sympathy, callousness”.
American author Elie Wiesel has said: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
Those definitions outline powerful negative behaviour. Of course some people are indifferent. But accepting the truth of that still allows for many, perhaps most, people to have essentially good hearts but with other factors in their lives adding up to distractions and limitations. That is something quite different from being “indifferent”.
Indeed, sometimes a person like this is aware of something in her or his heart that, if followed, could lead to a more radical giving of the person to The Lord. But bonds of marriage or family or other commitments may make such a radical giving hard, or seemingly impossible, to realise.
What about those who are, perhaps, chronically indifferent?
On the one hand, the Holy Spirit can work miracles so that the indifferent do overcome their selfishness and help to win peace. On the other hand, will not the indifferent, by and large, be unaware of the chosen 2016 theme?
Think of a simple and relatively common scenario in almost any sizeable Western city. A worker or businessperson on the way somewhere passes someone who is down-and-out and seeking money. Most people walk straight past.
Some of those who carry on will be indifferent. But many others will have a tug in their heart, but decide to do nothing.
It is probably fair to ask such people to think about their responses and to discern their true motives. Is it fear, anger, lack of knowledge and uncertainty as to how best respond?
Whatever the failings in the latter responses, indifference is not a fair description.
There is a more specific kind of “indifference”. Sincere Christians may, possibly through being swayed by their emotions, move from vitality in faith to loss of interest in God, or seeming spiritual indifference. Some authors argue that common causes are worldliness and sin and that it can be seen in neglected attendance, preparation, participation in worship.
This and the previous issue of NZ Catholic have had some focus on the sacrament of Reconciliation. If we have been neglecting this sacrament, then we can regain peace and vitality by using it.
There is another way of, if not overcoming indifference, then perhaps helping increase the likelihood of that outcome. When we acknowledge our failings fully, when we live holier lives, we increase the chance of reaching and helping those who are indifferent.
The indifferent are probably not in a great position to, on their own, be responsive to the 2016 theme. But we should be yeast in the world and so, without consciously setting out to, help the indifferent see themselves differently so they come to seek to change.
The sacrament of Reconciliation will help us become more yeasty, if we have not used it for some time.