Celebrating the Millennium is not just about marking a date.
Fr John explains how we. as Catholics, have answers for a world which is facing an uncertain future.
IRONICALLY, OF all the correspondence which the launching of Herald 2000 has so far produced, it is the tiny minority of seemingly completely unhelpful letters which are the ones that have stopped us most sharply in our tracks and made us ponder about what it is we are setting out to achieve.
The aim of Herald 2000 is to make a bigger percentage of the wider public aware that the Millennium has something to do with Jesus Christ, and we have asked readers to suggest ways of achieving this aim.
Some very useful suggestions have already been sent in, but we have also had some letters which are utterly negative about the forthcoming Millennium.
In the very moving words of one of these correspondents, Michael Britter of Ramsgate: "You appear to be of the belief that what we have to celebrate is the birth of Christ. What we have to celebrate is the coming day of wrath the wrath of God.
"Unlike the writers of your Millennium articles, I am filled with foreboding. It seems to me that not one thing, but everything, is going wrong."
What is the fundamental object of Herald 2000? It is not merely to give people a bit of information; it is not just to tell them that what makes the Millennium a millennium is the birth of Jesus Christ two millennia ago. It is to help more people face up to the challenges of the future.
In his exciting book of 1996, The End of Time, Damian Thompson writes about the dramatic growth, recently taking place all around the world, of religious groups looking forward to the end-time, 'millenarian groups' as the more extreme ones are called, or 'apocalyptic groups'.
We have all heard of the bizarre ones like the Davidinns of Waco in Texas, who in 1993 committed mass suicide but there are many thousands which never hit the headlines.
The advent of the Millennium is no doubt helping to bump up the membership of some of these groups, but Thompson argues that the basic reasons for their growth are much more profound than the imminent approach of AD 2000.
Fewer and fewer people are feeling confident about the future. Though hundreds of millions of people are enjoying a higher standard of living than the world has ever known before, liberal democracy clearly cannot deliver what it promised.
Nuclear weapons, and the Third Worlds slide into anarchy, could make the world of the third Millennium an extremely unpleasant place for us to live in.
Says Thompson: "Both militant Islam and conservative evangelicalism can do something which political ideology has lost the power to do: they can persuade people that the world may yet be miraculously transformed."
And he later goes on to say: "End-time belief addresses not only the anxieties of everyday life, but the human condition itself". In other words, our certain knowledge that the span of our lives is limited.
There is, however, a difference between the beliefs of the modem apocalyptic cults, which Damian Thompson writes so engagingly, about and the apocalyptic which was prevalent in the Palestine of Jesus's time.
Ancient Jewish apocalyptic was rooted in a profound belief in the justice and goodness of God, that the God who is 'high above the heavens' will not see his people perish but will come and save them himself.
As Catholics we believe that this expectation was fulfilled and transcended in the person of Jesus Christ. We believe, then, that though the future may be dark, it can be transformed.
It cannot, we are certain, be transformed by the harsh, violent, so-called god of most millenarianism. For how could it possibly be done by a god who mirrors a lot of the most repellent features of the world he supposedly is going to overturn?
We might as well put our faith in the fickle flirtatious gods and goddesses in Ted Hughes' Tales from Ovid.
No, it can only be transformed by Christ. He, after all, died for us.
In setting out to remind all sorts of people of the presence of Christ in the Millennium we are doing nothing more than starting something. But what a thing it could be!