Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Opinion: The Census form won’t ask us if we are a decent people, but then there is only one correct answer

Massgoers will have heard the parable of the prodigal son on Sunday last as Luke’s Gospel writing featured on what was the fourth Sunday of Lent. It’s a famous parable, one that has transcended religions and is as well-known in non-Christian faiths as it is in our own.

In short, the story, told by Jesus, involved a father and his two sons, one of whom asks for a portion of his inheritance and then moves away, living a questionable life and squandering his wealth. Eventually, he returns home empty-handed and is hoping his father accepts him back into the family, even as a servant. To his surprise, the boy is welcomed back with celebration, leaving the other and older son somewhat discontent at the welcome bestowed on his sibling. “You are ever with me…thy younger brother was lost and now he is found,” the father tells him.

The main message of the parable, we are taught, is that it doesn’t matter how far we stray from our Heavenly Father or how much we squander the gifts he provides, he is always delighted when we turn back to him. His unconditional love is waiting for us to return home.

It’s a stirring piece of writing and it resonates still today. Stepping away (if that’s possible) from the faith-based importance of the piece, it is embedded deeply in a code of ethics which still is so evident in the people of Ireland and especially the Midlands.

The Irish Red Cross has been inundated with pledges of accommodation for Ukrainian refugees from people around the region and the county. Truly, the organisation is staggered at the response – not only in terms of pledges, but in terms of financial donations too. Of course, with such a huge humanitarian crisis, enough is never enough and the organisation’s work and its appeals will go on.

But it’s worth considering the attitude of those people who have given of themselves, especially in terms of pledges concerning accommodation. They are reaching out to people who have done nothing wrong. They are not ‘prodigal sons’; they have not left the family, squandered wealth and then returned home, hoping for forgiveness. They are the innocents in all of this.

It is further proof that Irish society is a right-thinking, living, breathing part of all of us in this country.

Deep in the mindset of Irish people is a willingness to reach out – whether to it’s a returning loved one who has found a way home or to unnamed strangers who have fled their homes because of a war they did not start and do not support.

Separating it from faith and religion, the bare statistics published by the Irish Red Cross show that our code of ethics, howsoever we acquired it (parents, community or Church), is solid and good.

It is further proof that Irish society is a right-thinking, living, breathing part of all of us in this country.

This nation of course – and it is a nation that is thousands of years old, and is not just the independent, 100-year old State, the formation of which we celebrated last year – has developed a code of ethics that stands upright, loud and proud, when compared to other nations around this difficult world of ours.

This code of ethics – one that has certainly and thankfully been passed on to us by Church and family – runs deep. We may not be God-fearing people anymore, but then fearing God really means respecting God, or accepting that there is Someone greater than us, even if we do not fully understand or wish to accept such a reality.

Soon we will complete the Cenus 2022 form, where our religion has a section of its own. Some will see it as ‘cool’ to mark ‘no religion’, and that’s fair enough. But if the question were asked about having a solid code of ethics, or a valid moral compass, the answer, for the Irish, would be ‘yes’.

For some, where that came from is a matter for debate; for others, it’s clearly a gift from Church and family. Either way, as we welcome our Ukrainian brothers and sisters – not lost, not found, but welcomed – let’s acknowledge who we are. For we are a decent people.

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