Understanding the Modern World
In spite of all the evils rampant in the world today, no age in history has been as sensitive to the cause of justice as today. No age has highlighted the dignity of men and women as much as our world. No age has taken up the banner of the poor, the destitute, the rejected, the marginalized, the oppressed, as in the last seventy years. Justice and peace have become popular pursuits. Indeed, a revolution has come upon the earth.
In former times, the great men of history were dictators, like King Louis XIV of France and Adolf Hitler, great generals like Napoleon and Montgomery, great political leaders, like Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. They were indeed the creators of history.
Since World War II, there has been decidedly a new thrust. A new age has dawned. Greatness has shifted from the search for power, prestige and conquest to the humanization of the world. Energies that were once spent on acquiring territory and organizing ruthless expeditions for subduing foreign nations in the acquisition of wealth and power have given place to the harnessing of science for the advantage of all men and women throughout the world.
There has been advancement in medical research to overcome the ravages of diseases. Endeavour has been made to provide clean air and pure water for millions of people. People, like Mother Teresa of Kolkata, have dedicated their lives to making life more humane for those who were considered the wretched of the earth. People who were considered the scum of the earth have been integrated into society.
Some, like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, have dedicated their lives for the vindication of the rights of the Negro. Dorothy Day and others have dedicated their lives to the demanding task of integrating into the human community drug addicts and alcoholics, the poor and rejected, those whom society shun. People, like Jean Vanier, have spent decades in humanizing the lives of the mentally challenged. Cesar Chavez, a union leader, has given us a sterling example of a life devoted to championing the rights of the worker at tremendous sacrifice to himself and his family.
We must not omit to record the brilliant witness given by Mahatma Gandhi, of India, in endeavouring to work for social and political transformation through "soul force". He thus shunned brute force and blazed a new trail in a world of violence and bloodshed.
Nelson Mandela of South Africa in his struggle against apartheid and the marginalization of the Blacks has proven to us that the world can be transformed, though not without self-sacrifice. His 27 years' imprisonment on Robbins Island stands as an historical monument of the cruelty of man to man in a world which God created so that everyone might enjoy equally the blessings of the earth.
The last seventy years have witnessed triumph in many areas of the world in the search for liberty. The watchword has well been expressed in these memorable words, "Give me liberty or give me death."
During the last few decades, education has been made accessible to various categories of people. People have learnt that to benefit from the good things of the earth it is not enough to have liberty. All must have access to the possibility of increased knowledge. The last decades have witnessed a thrust towards learning as the hope for mankind. "Knowledge is power" has been the watchword, as many have travelled far afield in search of the "Golden Fleece". In this, the developed countries have been very co-operative. Generous scholarships have been granted. Many students have capitalized on the opportunity to take their rightful place under the sun.
The United Nations Organization, with all its limitations, has been a tremendous force for justice and peace. Secretary-Generals, like Dag Hammerskjöld, have done a tremendous job in championing the God-given rights of men and women.
Information technology, a remarkable gift of the age, has revolutionized the transmission of knowledge. It has placed education and human formation at the doorstep of all.
A spirit of sharing, championed by the Church in the proclamation and practice of Gospel values, has done much to transform the world. The poor, to a large extent, have been able to share in the benefits of the privileged.
However, the modern world is tainted with hypocrisy. Russia used communism merely as a tool to gain respect from the West and spread her tentacles all over the world, posing as the champion of the downtrodden. The U.S.A. used the communist threat of subversion to stifle attempts to redress social ills, labelling all efforts to bring benefits to the poor as socialism. Ministers of the Church often trumpeted the right of private property to justify the greed and rapacity of capitalists, thereby implicitly disregarding core Gospel values.
Acts of terrorism throughout the world, flagrant abuse of human rights, leading to the assassination of people, like Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, threats of nuclear warfare, racial discrimination and ethnic violence, speak of a world of barbarism alongside advancement in civilization. They speak to us of a world in which evangelization is at work, but they also proclaim to us that the world is in constant need of renewal. It is this world that we are called to love, to understand and to renew. The task is herculean. But it can be done. We need to trust in the ability of man to reform himself and his institutions and recreate the world which God has placed in his hands.
Development has made giant strides. But this has not been achieved without a high price. Besides, millions have not benefitted from the blessings of development. The exploitation of the poor and oppressed continues apace. As Pope Francis said recently, sadness and the temptation to despair are a feature of today's world. He exhorts Christians to be "visible, clear, brilliant signs of hope". This is our calling. Only in the fulfillment of this vocation can Christians be truly relevant to the modern world.