Can we really make the world better?


After a twentieth century in which so many fine dreams have been disappointed and so many hopes diverted, how can we talk about what we can do to change the world or make it better? Is disenchanted discourse our only option? Could resignation be wisdom? Should abdication be taken for lucidity? Must we join the ranks of fatalists to be intelligent? Will whoever gives the best of their energies be doomed one day to say, like the suffering servant of Isaiah: “I wore myself out for nothing?”

Asking such questions is, in the final analysis, asking the question of our freedom, of the field open and available for our activity. Before commenting on the approach that Brother Roger took regarding these questions, the philosopher Marguerite Léna recalled these words of Kierkegaard: “There is no more freedom when nothing is possible any more.” And she went on to say: “Brother Roger always worked to restore and to open up that dimension of the possible that allows freedom to breathe.” To open up the field of the possible, to refuse to fatalism any attempt to restrict that field but, on the contrary, to widen it, by maintaining “the green spaces of hope in the landscape of society,” as one day Cardinal Danneels wrote, is a task that Christians can buckle down to with many others.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, appeared to have the same concern for widening our outlook when he wrote to the participants in the European Meeting in Geneva: “To have faith is to be willing to live so as to show that God is alive. And that means to live in ways which show that there are more possibilities than the world recognizes.”

Christians have demonstrated inventiveness throughout history. Their faith led them to innovate. Thus were born the first hospitals and care given to patients free of charge at the time of Saint Basil of Caesarea in the fourth century, and probably well before. Speaking of another change in the ancient world, a historian was surprised that the names of Melania and Pinian have been so little remembered. Enjoying the largest fortune of the Roman Empire, those two Christians of Saint Augustine’s day decided to free their slaves and share everything with them. Why were the significant changes that this couple introduced into history so little talked about? Out of fear of acknowledging the positive role played by Christians? Or out of fear by the Christians themselves to emphasize such radical choices...?

Today, the period of unprecedented peace that began with the construction of Europe is here to convince us that we should not underestimate what can be done. With the believer of the second century who wrote to Diognetus about Christians, we can say: “The post that God has assigned them is so noble that they are not allowed to desert it.”

Last updated: 18 June 2009