St Augustine, writing in the 4th century, asked when the “good old days” were that people talked about, and wondered if the people who lived those good old days thought the same. He knew history. There were no periods he could see: Imperial Rome when the city had 900,000 slaves serving 100,000 Roman citizens; the horror of empire, the cruelty of invasion, the exploitation of the conquered, the power, wealth and corruption of rulers, the merciless mercenaries who fought with no ideals but only for gain. It was in the 4th century that we had the first pope to kill to become pope. His name was Damasus. Damasus and Ursinus were deacons to Pope Liberius who died in September 366 and each was determined to become pope. Each hired gangs of assassins, murderous battles were fought in the streets of Rome, hundreds of people died. Damasus became pope in the October. The Church honours him as a saint on 11th December. He was a thug. History is written by the victors.
When I was young I would hear about the “good old days” before World War II. But the 1920’s and 30’s were horrifying years of Naziism (Adolf Hitler) and Communism (Joseph Stalin). Many millions were slaughtered, starved and conquered. European countries were exploiting native peoples by their “empires” in Central and South America, most of Africa and the Asian sub- continent. There was terrible divide between “White” and the peoples considered of inferior colours. It was a world of prejudice, greed and fear. I didn’t understand why the family could talk about the “good old days”. My mother explained simply that they knew little or nothing of what was happening beyond the poverty in Britain, the General Strike, control and power by the wealthy ruling classes in politics, business and manufacturing. Ordinary people knew little, she said, except when it affected them personally.
Not to know is to be able to do nothing. Education was the wonderful escape from terrible working conditions and poverty. Post-war Britain opened up schooling beyond the elementary schools and further education became a wonderful possibility. For boys. Even in the 1960’s and 70’s fathers would say at Parents’ Evenings at school that it was a waste of time educating girls – they were going to get married, have children, look after the home and have the dinner on the table when the husband came home. What a betrayal of their daughters! Today’s world recognises “equality” but very limited where men still hold power. Shall we ever see genuine equality?
Todays are the only days we have. The Yesterdays have gone, but need to be learned from; Tomorrows must be prepared for; but Todays are when we act. If something isn’t done today it is never done because Tomorrow will become Today. We know the answers but seem to be afraid to ask the questions. The best answers are justice, peace and a world without prejudice. Religion, with all its divisions, is no answer: it divides. Friendships across the divides is our best way: love of our neighbour is the simple gospel which Jesus preached for everyone. “God is love,” said St John and a world of caring love we can make together.
Some people talk about the “good old days” after World War II when churches were full and many Catholic organisations were active. But those were the horrifying years of the sexual abuse of millions of children. That hidden corruption, beginning in the English-speaking world, is still being opened up, numbers almost unimaginable. We must bring healing, our faith in God inspiring and blessing us to make the world as we believe God wishes and Jesus preached.
Bless us to love one another,
(11th December 2022)