Religion gets a very bad press and much of it deserved. But there is also much good in it and many religious people have made a great contribution to our world and to the well -being of others. Within religions such as Christianity and Buddhism there are those who have dedicated themselves to the good of others in what we call religious life. Within Christianity there are many religious orders -groups of men and women who are united through a common vision and mission and who live according to the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Once such order is the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits who have come to prominence since the election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope. Founded in the 16th century by Ignatius of Loyola, Jesuit priests and brothers have made a great contribution to the Catholic Church, to Christianity and to the wider world. In the 18th century they were suppressed in Catholic countries by Pope Clement XIV for political rather than religious reasons. Jesuits throughout the world had to renounce their vows and were driven into exile. This year they celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the end of this suppression when in 1814 Pope Pius VII restored the Society and Jesuits were once again able to serve and minister throughout the world.
To commemorate the event the British Province have produced a calendar which celebrates some of the giants in their community. The calendar replicates paintings commissioned from a young artist, Ellen Riley, whose husband finished the commission after her tragic and untimely death in 2012 at the age of 24. Last month celebrated Fr Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who was a French philosopher, paleontologist and geologist. He worked extensively in Africa and Asia and was part of the expedition which discovered Peking Man. He believed not only in physical evolution but also in a spiritual evolution that would lead humanity to a moment of wholeness and completeness. He once said " I am a pilgrim of the future on my way back from a journey made entirely in the past".
His spiritual reflections were regarded with suspicion and he was forbidden to publish his works during his lifetime. His work, however, survived and has made a great contribution to the dialogue between science and religion. He was a man who has shown us that the future is in our hands. The future is not certain, it is not closed, it is not negative. We are all pilgrims of the future and the future will be what we make of it. Every act of love, of compassion, of courage, of selflessness, of struggle to establish good relations and dispel prejudice and discrimination are seeds which can give us hope in a world that so often focuses on the negative.