It was about this time fifty years ago that the Apprentice Boy’s Parade took place in Derry. It provided the outlet for protest that was to occupy the North of Ireland for the next quarter of a century. The official ending of what euphemistically was called “The Troubles” took place with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on 10th April 1998.
Every country has a “past”. Few countries bring the past into the present as frequently as we do in Ireland. Annual commemorations are mixed other significant periods which fill up the calendar. Learning from the past has produced elements of justice for past wrongs and apologies have been given where opportunities for forgiveness were evident. Whether or not these apologies amount to repentance (a change of heart) will be revealed over time.
What is certain is there should be no going back to the tit for tat behaviour where retaliation ensured there would be no end to the matter. It is not easy to live with feelings of injustice. Whether these feelings are real or imaginary is irrelevant – they are always real to the one who has them!
Anniversaries of atrocities bring testing times for those attempting to avoiding them and for those celebrating them. They create the temptation to return to the past, especially if the expression of regret by the other is non-existent or is not being lived out. It requires the supernatural power of Jesus to break the mould and commit to a lifestyle which lives in the new way of loving your enemy (St Matthew Chapter 5 verses 43 to 45).
It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that the labelling ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ are not to be found in the Bible. Both systems of religion acknowledge the centrality of Christ’s teaching and example. The names themselves have been largely inherited and are often used to perpetrate division. Those who follow these traditions have these verses in their Bibles: – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (St John Chapter 13 verses 34 to 35).
We need to learn from the past as present times are uncertain. The North of Ireland is without a government. England has a Prime Minister who seems focussed on exiting Europe on 31st October with scant regard to its consequences for Ireland. To have confidence for the future we need to turn from past deeds and present uncertainties and trust in Jesus who loves his own “to the very end of the age” (St Matthew Chapter 28 verse 20).