Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and myself, we have all tried to form empires and our empires have crumbled in the dust, because they were founded on force. One Man alone founded an empire on love and today eighteen hundred years after his death, there are millions of men who are ready to lay down their lives for His Name. Can He be less than God?

These words are reputed to have been spoken or written by Napoleon Bonaparte shortly before his death on the island of St. Helena in the year 1821. To appreciate their significance, perhaps it will be helpful to give a very brief summary of the history of Napoleon.

Who was Napoleon Bonaparte?

Napoleon was born into a Catholic family on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, in the year 1769. He was educated in France and as a young man he joined the French army. It soon became obvious that he was no ordinary soldier. He showed amazing gifts of leadership and military ability. By the year 1804, as head of the French army, he had conquered almost all of Europe, with the exception of Britain, and decided to make himself emperor.

He had long since ceased to practise his Catholic religion, but for political reasons, he invited Pope Pius VII to come from Rome and crown him. According to a tradition – the truth of which I am not certain – as the pope was about to lay the crown on his head, Napoleon snapped it from his hands and crowned himself. That was the type of man he was. Pius VII was a strong pope and, as the years went by he refused to obey some of Napoleon’s dictatorial commands. As a result the pope was imprisoned for five years, from 1809 to 1814, in Savona, Italy.

The Battle of WaterlooIn 1815 Napoleon faced the British army, under the leadership of the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, near Brussels. He suffered a humiliating defeat and was forced to abdicate. The British exiled him on the island of St. Helena, off the south coast of Africa. While he was not treated badly, the humiliation of his defeat and exile on a small island drove this great conqueror, now 46 years of age, almost to despair.

In his psychological agony he turned back to his faith, which he had not practised since he was a child in Corsica. He began reading the Gospels, which he had probably never done before. He became completely captivated both intellectually and spiritually by the story of Christ. He realized that Jesus is truly God become Man with no equal among all the conquerors of history. It was this realization which prompted him to write the beautiful statement, which I have quoted above. Napoleon died on St. Helena of tuberculosis in the year 1821, at the age of 52.

The millenniumIf you have persevered this far in reading this article, you may be excused for wondering what it is all about. It is really an introduction to some thoughts on the real meaning of the third millennium. I am sure we have all read a lot about the approach of the millennium. But I cannot help wondering if people really realize its true significance. I can see a real danger that it could become merely a worldly event and an occasion for more “money making.”
I was visiting a Catholic grade school recently and I asked the children what the millennium was all about. Several hands went up, but in their answers not one of them mentioned the birth of Christ. And yet, that is the only significance of the millennium. It is to celebrate God’s becoming Man (the Incarnation) two thousand years ago and therefore the beginning of the third millennium since a Baby was born to a Virgin in a stable in Bethlehem.

As far as I am aware, most of the readers of The Interim are Christians, probably of different denominations. But being a Christian means accepting that Jesus Christ is God made Man. The very first sentence in the Gospel of St. John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.” What I am trying to do in this column is to call to mind the true meaning and significance of the millennium and how it should affect our lives. It is a great privilege to be alive at such a time.

I have no doubt that dozens of books and articles will be written on the millennium and its significance from many points of view. What I wish to do is ask myself and each of you what we can do to make this unique occasion a success in the true meaning of that word.

Of course we should celebrate it with joy. It is the commemoration of the greatest Birth that has ever taken place since the beginning of the world or will ever take place in the future. But our celebration should be primarily of a spiritual nature, with a practical application to the world and the society in which we are now living. I believe that we are living in the most secularistic age since the beginning of Christianity. This is probably due to the fact that technology has advanced more in this century than it did since the beginning of the world. And television – a wonderful invention in itself – has to a great extent taken over the formation of children in the place of the parents. To put it, perhaps, more dramatically, “the world” pays a visit to almost every sitting room – and often every bedroom – each evening and, not always, but generally, tells the family how to render to Caesar rather than to God. The fact that companies pay millions of dollars for a brief commercial is an indication of the power of TV on the daily lives of the viewers.

What can I do about it?The immediate answer of what we might call “the ordinary person” to this question would probably be, “Nothing.” But that is not correct. Obviously, some people, because of their position or ability, will have more influence than others. But each one of us has some influence – for good or evil – on the people with whom we associate. Just as each cell in the human body affects the health of every other cell, each individual person affects the moral health of the society in which we live. Our families and friends will be either better or worse morally for having associated with us. It is a rather frightening thought but it is the truth – and “The Truth will make you free.”

Here is a statement which I read recently and which sums up better than I could the ideas I am trying to express: “It behooves Christians within the many opportunities we have for action, to contribute to a world order that is more just, more human and more Christian … No Christian should stand aside from the need to do everything within his or her power to solve the enormous social problems that now afflict society. Let each of us examine ourselves to see what we have done up to now and what more we ought to accomplish. It is not enough to cite general principles, make resolutions, condemn grave injustices, make denunciations… None of this will carry any weight unless accompanied in each person by a more lively realization of his or her responsibility and by effective action.”

Some suggestions for the millenniumWhat each of us can do depends almost entirely on our position in society – a parent, a member of a family, a clergyman, a doctor, a worker, etc. – so it is impossible to be specific. But here are a few suggestions, which could apply to anybody.

1. Read a chapter of the gospels every day and ask yourself if your daily living is in accordance with the principles expressed. 2. Spend some time each day in personal prayer and look back over “Yesterday.” 3. Now and then, reflect on your relationship with other people – your family, your friends, your co-workers, the poor and the needy. 4. Ask yourself if you have taken a stand against the injustices done to other people. 5. Are you charitable in your treatment of the people with whom you come in contact each day, remembering the words of Our Lord, “As long as you did it to one of these you did it to me.” Think about it!

I conclude with what I consider an appropriate verse:

“I saw the conquerors riding by, with cruel lips and faces wan. Pondering on kingdoms sacked and burned there rode the Mogul, Ghengis Khan. And Alexander, like a god, who sought to weld the world in one and Caesar with his laurel wreath and like a thing from Hell the Hun. And leading like a star the van, heedless of upstretched arm and groan, inscrutable Napoleon passed, dreaming of empire and alone. Then all these vanished from the earth like melting snows and ebbing tides, while conquering down the centuries the swordless Christ a donkey rides.”