The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, gave the address at the annual RUC George Cross Day church service held on Sunday 7th June 2015, at St Mark’s Parish Church, Newtownards.
Archbishop Clarke drew inspiration from the inscription over the great central entrance at Milan Cathedral which reads, ‘That only is important which is eternal’. He said: ‘In the context of the Christian Gospel, this is precisely what our service today is about … Now, death, pain, injury (whether physical or psychological), bereavement, mutilation are all realities – terrible realities, and brutal realities that we should never ever seek to diminish or to trivialise. But our worship here today reminds us powerfully and movingly that the call of duty and service may enable men and women to transcend those cruel certainties in the name of what they can understand as a more complete reality and of greater importance – service for the good of others. And this is precisely where the award of the George Cross to the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 1999 comes in – the vision of a greater reality, above and beyond self-protection, and even self- preservation.’
The Archbishop went on to say: ‘And so the Christian Gospel tells us that everything we do on earth must be put into a setting beyond our own comfort, our own safety or pleasure in this life. Everything you and I do must instead be placed in the context of an eternity – eternal values in this life as well as an eternity beyond this life – to which God is calling each one of us. This is the thing of final and ultimate importance.’ He continued, ‘The values of eternity are seen in our service of others, the values of the Gospel’.
Archbishop Clarke, drawing upon the reflections of the English writer Francis Spufford, also commented on the misleading idea that a life without God is a happier life. He said: ‘A few years ago, a celebrated advertisement appeared on London buses, paid for by enthusiastic atheists. It read simply, “There’s probably no God. Now, stop worrying and enjoy your life.” As an interesting English writer Francis Spufford noticed – I cannot claim that I spotted it for myself! – this advertisement was exceptionally clever but it was also very devious, because its real message was not whether or not there was a God – the message was that if you can just get God off the scene, you will be able to enjoy your life more fully; you can actually enjoy life for a change. This was a crafty suggestion, but utterly misleading, and deeply dishonest.
‘First of all, it is suggesting that to believe in God is to give up on enjoyment in life. And it is also suggesting that the only real barrier to happiness is God. But God is not against human happiness and enjoyment, far from it … in addition, there is as much real and objective distress, hurt, pain and misery in this world, among those who do not have a faith dimension within them, as among those who do. Living without God does not bring additional pleasure.
‘All that we as Christians can say is that there is within the total experience of life, the joys and pleasures but also the distresses, the difficulties and – as we are indeed celebrating today – the calls and demands of duty and of conscience that can lead people of courage into danger and even death – there is, if we have the eyes to see it, an understanding of life that goes beyond the purely human. This is the dimension of God, the dimension of eternity. An eternity that is not simply a destination at the end of earthly life (although it is also that), but eternal life that is a way of living, a way of trusting, and a way of following – a quality of life, a dimension of life, that is eternal life here and now.’