Archive for July, 2010

Only Love Remains

This is the time of year when people move on and things change. It is the end of term, and those who are leaving school will move on either to another school or college and that can be difficult for some. There are members of staff who retire or change their jobs, and in our school there is the chaplain who has decided that she (yes, we have a young lady who has the name “school chaplain” as her title) should move on and start a different career.

Tuesday morning mass at 8am is one in which we invite our students at school to come to mass, and a solid core of about 10 have been there regularly over the last year. Teachers come too, and also our chaplain. Last Tuesday the young altar server asked me if she could say a word after mass to thank our chaplain Gemma for supporting her and the students in the school and wish her God speed in her new job; after Holy Communion she did just that. It was an emotional moment because the pupils and staff are very sorry to see Gemma go, even if objectively it is the right thing. This all made me reflect.

It is hard For priests to leave a parish, just as in many cases for parishioners it is hard to lose their priest. He has often become a part of the parishioners’ lives, part of their families through his ministry. When asked “what is it like to be a priest on a parish”, the response I give is that it could not lead to better “job satisfaction” because you become a trusted member of so many different families. That is as long as a priest has a small amount of love and giving in him and an interest in people. It is such a privilege to be invited to be so fully trusted, almost a member of the family.

It all ends when things change and moves happen and that can be a strong emotional experience of loss and little gain. It is true also for teachers who leave schools and those who leave friends and neighbours as circumstances take them away to new places. What remains of all the time that people have shared each others’ lives? The events and happenings do not remain: they may be happy or unhappy memories but they cannot return. Nothing remains except the love that has gone into the days lived together.

Faced with these young people at that Tuesday morning mass I felt suddenly quite incapable of explaining to them the special nature of Christian Love. It is quite different to the love that we hear proclaimed in so many songs or expounded in the newspapers or in novels or TV plays. How are you able to go beyond the mundane to the genuine article of a really satisfying experience of loving? Especially as I have seen young people, older than the ones in front of me in the chapel last Tuesday morning, who are aimless and bored, into drugs, sitting cabbage like in front of Television or computer with seemingly little purpose in life. Jesus was on this earth and has given each person the chance to find out the meaning and purpose of his life. It is all to do with “love” and yet how hard it is to share what this really means. The saying is true: “Love does make the world go round”.

What is love? For some people love and sex are completely entwined. How then did Jesus love? Had he failed in love, a person who chose not to have a personal intimate relationship with another human being? I know a man who thinks that anyone who is consecrated to God by vows of celibacy has repudiated love.

Everyone wants both to love and be loved. Yet it is not something that you can keep and preserve. It is a bit like water: if you try to grab it the liquid runs between your fingers and goes.

Love necessarily includes relationship. I think it would be true to say that the relationship of Jesus and Mary his mother was the strongest human relationship that has ever existed in this world. Since Mary, Jesus’ mother is considered to be the “type” or the “model” of the Church, and the Church is the spouse of Christ, Mary must not only be the mother of Jesus but also his spouse. Given that Jesus is God made man, Mary is immaculate and made worthy to be the mother of God, a short reflection makes a person realise the uniqueness of their relationship. Their parting must have been very hard, especially in the circumstances of the crucifixion where it happened.

John and Mary at the foot of the cross

During his time on the cross Jesus seemed to have said to his mother “I am no longer your son” because in St. John’s Gospel, from the cross Jesus saw his mother the disciple whom he loved standing next to her and said “Woman, this is your Son”. Turning then to the disciple he said, “Here is your Mother”. And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19: 26-27) That must have been an agony for Mary his mother, precisely as his mother.

One day Jesus was speaking to the crowds and his mother and brothers appeared, standing outside, anxious to have a word with him. A man came to Jesus to tell him, and Jesus said to him “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Stretching out his hand to his disciples he said, “Here are my mother, and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother, and sister and mother”. (Mt. 12: 47-50)

Your mother and brothers are here

On the surface what an extraordinary thing Jesus said about the one with whom he had such a strong relationship. It is amazing to think that Jesus found those who were his disciples and did God’s will were also in relation to himself like a mother or a brother; i.e. people who make him feel good, loved and wanted. He too gave others that sense else why did they leave everything to follow him? Our Lord it is said did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself to become human. (cf Phil 2; 6-8). It seems that he also did not cling to his relationship with his mother, but quite deliberately left home and family to begin a new adventure with others who would follow him and become another kind of family. This was the prototype of the Church that would later be formed by his disciples. At the same time he never forgot his mother Mary, and she never forgot her son Jesus, but they went about in their own way their Fathers’ business for them.

I read a meditation linked with this thought recently. It runs:

Whoever follows Jesus does not do so in order to live in a particular place (like a presbytery or religious house)…Whoever follows Jesus follows God and therefore has no place except in God himself.

If on the one hand this might seem negative, a renunciation of everything, on the other hand it can also be viewed in a positive sense. Every place in the world, all the houses in the world, become ours, because the Son of Man is master of the universe and his home cannot just be a little house in a little town.

Whoever follows Jesus finds his home everywhere, finds his town everywhere, and similarly finds his family and his homeland everywhere.

This is an overwhelming aspect of a vocation; we do not follow Jesus in a particular place, in a particular house; we follow Jesus in order to be his children and his brothers and sisters throughout the whole universe.

This thought may be able to throw light onto what Love is: probably the words will help us to understand if we have experience personally of what it speaks.

Let us remain open to God teaching us by his Holy Spirit what true Christian Love really is. It is this Love that in the midst of our tears will assuage sadness at parting and make sense of all the difficulties we will face in life.

Teenagers of the 21st Century

Nearly every news item contains headlines of frightful teenage atrocities and our immediate reaction is to have them put away for life.  There is absolutely no excuse for their behaviour, but there are a number of reasons that may well be the cause.  In our high school, in south Liverpool, roughly 70% of the pupils have only one parent – usually a mother on her own, or with a partner – many of these children are “keyhole kids” because, when they get home from school, their parent is at work and there is nobody home to welcome them.  The lucky ones have a “Nan” who will look after them until someone comes home; consequently their Nan and Granddad are the people they know and love most.  

Family life at home is a rare or unknown experience.  They seldom – if ever – eat together as a family, but have their tea on a tray in front of the TV, often watching unsuitable and violent programmes until well into the night.  In a word, they lack any real experience of discipline.

The ‘Mission Statement’ of the College is as follows:

“That we provide a safe, secure and happy environment.

We provide opportunities for all pupils to develop their talents,

recognising and celebrating their achievements and success.

We believe that God loves each person and we encourage

respect for people and treat them equally.

We encourage a spirit of cooperation,

responsibility and self-discipline.

We affirm the Christian values of faith, hope and

love – love being the greatest of these.”

That, I think, is why the School is the centre of their lives,

though they would be unlikely to admit it!

What about the rest of the young people, we hear so much about, because of their totally unacceptable behaviour?  Judging by the number of pupils who are sent to our Support Centre from other schools where, if they have a ‘Mission Statement’, it would seem to fail to deal successfully with the pupils’ problems; as a consequence, on some occasions, the pupils express a wish to change schools, and after a six weeks trial period, they begin to show some signs of stability, self-discipline and punctuality. The Managers of the Centre may well recommend them to be accepted, provided their previous school is willing to give them a transfer – which they usually give – only too happily!

Most of their problems are anger management, attention seeking, truanting and considerable insecurity.  So they easily get themselves mixed up with even more unsuitable companions, who are already ‘fixed’ on alcohol and drugs.  One of the glaring problems is the lack of discipline in their lives and we would do well to listen to one of St. Paul’s letters: he says: “The Lord disciplines him who he loves.  It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons, for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which, all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” – tough words, but badly needed advice, we would do well to heed.

One of the problems is the lack of safe, well run, places for young people in which to recreate, such as youth clubs – well organised, with plenty of things to do – and rules which they must keep or be asked to leave.  Some time ago, I came across an article in the paper about a family who are running a youth club from their home, making a place where they know they are loved and respected – but run also with strict discipline.  The point of the article was to say how successful it is, and that they are overcrowded with applications, and in great need of somewhere in which to expand.

The other day, there was a programme on the TV about a gang intent upon doing violence and damaging property.  A young lad of about 11 years was anxious to join them.  The gang leader gave him a brick and said: “If you want to join us, throw this through the old woman’s window.”  The lad dropped the brick and said: “If that’s your game, frightening old women, you can get lost.”  The leader stabbed him with a knife and left him bleeding on the ground.  He was taken to hospital and eventually recovered, having nearly paid the price of his life for doing what he knew to be right.

What can we do, as individuals, to help young people feel secure in themselves, and not want to get involved in all that they see on the streets, hear what is going on in other young peoples’ homes and what their friends tell them?  If it is possible to give a welcome in your home, to your teenager’s friends and get to know them, they will feel loved and accepted, and hopefully want to change their lifestyle – should it need to be changed – and feel at home with your family.  In my experience, when they are shown respect, love, and are willing to accept the rules, they usually react in a positive way, and want to respond in order that they may continue to be accepted.

It is easy for me to make these statements, when I am not immediately subjected to teenagers constantly knocking at my door, or taking advantage of the family’s generosity, but, for them, it might be the beginnings of a change of pattern of behaviour; it may just help them to cope with the many disadvantages most of them face.


St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine lived in the third and fourth centuries and died in the year 330 AD. The extent of his writings was vast, so much so that his many books, today, make up 46 thick volumes in their English translations. When I say ‘ writings’ , they were not all written by him, in the actual sense, as he dictated his books to ‘stenographers’, often keeping a particular book in his head for many years, as he dictated. In addition, he was constantly writing sermons, letters and dealing with multitudinous issues, as the Bishop of a very large diocese, at Hippo, in North Africa. His ‘stenographers’ were scribes, who, in those days, had to write on tablets – all quite heavy and coated with wax – later to be transcribed again onto parchment.  So Augustine, on his journeys, in his study – or wherever – would have scribes working away on what he was dictating. Reportedly, it took 20 years to write one of his greatest books, “The City of God” – its pages all there, assembled inside his head – and unravelling, one by one, all in perfect order as he dictated. Today, although we know a great deal about him from his writings, it is very difficult to gain any real idea of the essential genius of this great man, and how he achieved so much.


(Probably the earliest) portrait of St. Augustine of Hippo

One of my friends – an intelligent man – has definitive views about St. Augustine of Hippo. A lapsed Catholic, and one who considers himself an Atheist, he has never found the Catholic teaching on chastity to his liking, and is of the opinion that St. Augustine is the cause of all the bad teaching, within the Church, on the subject of sex.  He thinks that the guilt, carried by Catholics deep in their hearts concerning sexual morality, has its roots in St. Augustine’s strict moral teaching.

Within my own experience, circumstances have, from time to time, led me to meet up with many Augustinians. I have one friend in Spain who is of the Augustinian order, and likewise, his sister. She belongs to a semi-enclosed Augustinian convent at Huelva, a town in southern Spain. He, Fr. Manolo Morales on the other hand is like most Augustinian priests involved in active pastoral work. Both of them, it must be said, radiate a wonderful sense and presence of joy!  

The Augustinian community of Huelva July 2001

(Fr. Manolo is 4th from left – back row)

Some years ago, I was with them, in their convent, on 28th August, the feast of St. Augustine, and my friend, the priest-brother was proud to introduce me to his sister and her companions. We had a most wonderful celebration of the feast, in the courtyard of the convent, and I well remember the joyful atmosphere, enhanced considerably, when the younger sisters performed some traditional Spanish dancing, to a guitar played by one of the sisters.  I will never forget, the beautiful singing and the evident joy among the sisters – an atmosphere of true happiness reflecting the life-style of the community and one that led, in those days, almost inevitably to the desires of a number of young girls to join them.  

As far as I am aware, that is still the case.  I was with a group of men in religious life, on holiday near Huelva,  and Fr. Manolo, the Augustinian priest, although not well physically, but spiritually alert and ‘playful’, used to walk up and down the beach with a very ‘well-thumbed’ copy of St. Augustine’s ‘Confessions’. He told me he never tired of reading the book, that is the first-ever biography, historically, in which a person reflects on his own feelings about God, and on his own feelings about life, personally.  I will always remember Fr. Manolo’s humorous stories, and the way he related to all of us who were with him on that holiday. His persona, his manner, his outlook and life-style, his character – all of this and more – ‘shouted’ to all and sundry, that this was, certainly, not the outward-expression of somebody ‘riddled’ with guilt about sin.

But, to return to St. Augustine, often in our breviary readings we have extracts from his writings – very often from his sermons. One such extract occurred on Sunday 4th July, and its content was very meaningful to me. It was concerning sinfulness, and in it Augustine refers to the famous psalm, often called “The Miserere”, (Psalm 50 or 51) which begins, in the grail translation: “Have mercy on me God in your kindness, in your compassion blot out my offence.” This psalm is allegedly written by King David after his adultery with Bathsheba, and his murder of her husband Uriah, the Hittite.

What follows is an extract of the Roman breviary for 4th July, this year, taken from St. Augustine’s writings:

“’I acknowledge my transgression,’ says David. If I acknowledge it, then pardon me, O God. We must not assume at all that we are living good lives, free from sin. Let a man’s life be praised in so far as he asks for pardon. But as for men without hope, the less attentive they are to their own sins, the more they pry into those of others. They seek, not what they can correct, but what they can criticize. And as they cannot excuse themselves, they are ready to accuse others.”

This extract reminds me so very much of articles that appear in our newspapers, concerning the bad behaviour of so many people, strongly criticized in this very public way, by the media. This kind of writing – ‘gutter press’ if you like – fails to bring hope to peoples’ lives.   On the contrary, it can, and often does, destroy lives. The passage in the Gospel comes to mind: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”, … .. and one by one those who were about to stone the woman, taken in adultery, slunk away, until only the woman was left with Jesus.

One English Sunday newspaper springs readily to mind.  To me, it appears to be very hypocritical: on one page it seems to rejoice in displaying all kinds of half-naked people (or worse), in writing about peoples’ affairs and so forth, and then on another page it will delight in openly writing about some scandal involving a person in a high position – its tone usually sexual – and with a distinct air of self-righteous justification.  Some may say ‘indignation’!

Augustine goes on in his sermon:

“… … as they cannot excuse themselves, they are ready to accuse others. This was not the way that David showed us how to pray and make reparation to God when he said: ‘I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is always before me.’  David was not interested in other men’s sins.”

Rather, I think it ought to be that, within this practical attitude to life, lies the root of real joy and hope – the joy of being forgiven, totally, by the all merciful God. When somebody says he is not a sinner he is making God to be a liar according to the scriptures (cf 1 John 1,10); in other words that person is the liar. We are all sinners – excepting Jesus and his Mother – every last one of us, even the saints. Yet you never see a sad saint, as that would be a contradiction in terms. However difficult life is there is always a chance for joy when there is union with God, and in Him, union with others.

Returning to my friend and his attitude to St. Augustine, I have to say: no, I do not think St. Augustine is the reason for an unhealthy view about sex in our world. Personally, I would be much more inclined to think that if we have an unhealthy view of this subject it is much more to do with our inability to rest in the goodness of God, aware that we are all forgiven sinners, and that all too often we are far more interested in the misdemeanours of others, at the expense of a critical examination of self.  Above all this, surely, it is far better to focus on the joy of God’s infinite and daily love for each one of us, personally, remembering as the scripture says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:12).”

Extreme Unction


Extreme Unction – by Rogier Van der Weyden

‘Extreme Unction’ was the title given to the ‘Sacrament of the Sick’, until the Vatican Council re-christened it, on the grounds that it was available to all baptised Catholics who were seriously ill, or suffering from the affects of old age, and not only those who were at the point of death.  The sacred anointing of the sick was instituted by Christ Our Lord, and it is mentioned by St. Mark, when he describes Jesus’ instructions for the mission of the Twelve: “So they set off to preach repentance; they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.” (Mk: 6: 12-13).  We find a mention of it, also, in St. James’s Letter: “If one of you is ill he should send for the elders of the church, and they must anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him. The prayer of faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him up again and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.” (James: 5:14-16)

I can remember, many times, being called to someone who was ill, in the night, when I was at St. Peter’s, Seel Streeet, Liverpool in the `1950′s, and hearing the Dockers, standing outside the pub saying: “Look, Priest.” The accent was on the word ‘priest’, implying: “Someone’s had it!” (or someone had not much longer in this world). In those days, when people saw the priest going to the tenements, they would assume he had the Blessed Sacrament with him, and they wouldn’t expect him to talk to them.

When administering the ‘Sacrament of the Sick’, the priest begins with a short introduction, ending with these words: “Let us entrust our sick brother/sister to the grace and power of Jesus Christ, that the Lord may ease his/her sufferings and grant him/her health and salvation.” He then invites the sick person to make his/her confession or make an act of sorrow and gives absolution.  Then, in silence, the priest lays his hands on the head of the sick person and prays over him/her, in the faith of the Church. This action is used also in Baptism, Reconciliation and Confirmation; it signifies blessing and healing and follows the instructions given by Jesus, that the Apostles, “… .. should lay their hands on the sick and they will be healed.”

The priest then anoints the sick person on the head, and on the palm of the hands, with the words: “Through this holy anointing may the Lord, in his love and mercy, help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up.”

Those of us who have experienced this sacrament at first hand, ether by receiving it ourselves or by being present when someone we are looking after receives it, will have experienced some of the many effects of this amazing sacrament. The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening –  peace and courage – given to the sick person, to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness, or the frailty of old age!  (I could write a book about that – old age, I mean!)  This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens the sick person, against the temptation of discouragement, and anguish in the face of death. His gift of grace is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also, to the healing of the body, if that is God’s will.

By the grace of this sacrament, the sick person receives the strength and the gift of uniting himself more closely to Christ’s Passion, thus taking a real share in the saving work of Jesus.  In addition to the anointing, the Church offers those who are about to leave this life, the Eucharist as Viaticum — a passing over – from death to life – from this world to the Father.

All this puts me in mind of one very special occasion. I remember the time when one of the senior members of a Parish family was nearing death, after a long and drawn-out sickness, and the whole family was gathered in the sick room.  I offered Mass for him, and the whole family present were all able to receive Holy Communion and join in the responses for the Anointing and Viaticum. Granddad – the patient – was conscious throughout, and the effect of the joint family prayer gave him great joy and peace.

It happens sometimes that people are reluctant to call the priest, largely because they fear that the sick person may begin to think he is more ill than he had, at first, thought. Priests are trained to handle the situation with great tact. If in doubt, you should explain that the patient is of a nervous disposition and the priest will act accordingly.

For myself, I keep the Holy Oils in the car because one never knows what one may come across when visiting people. I have often used them in the school, when a pupil comes to see me in great distress, either about themselves, or about the family. When that seems to be appropriate, I explain all about the Sacrament and tell them to go and think about it, and if they decide they would then like to receive it, to come back and let me know.  On the occasions when they have come back to me,  I have been impressed by their attitude, and even more, by the results.

The longer I live — especially in my contacts with teenagers – the more I realise what problems they have to face, quite apart from the inevitable ones of growing up. Most often, they are searching for someone willing to listen, and accept them as they are; only then, are they prepared to listen to advice, consider it carefully, and eventually to accept it – in all probability. They long to find someone who will always be there for them – someone who will be a ‘rock’ for them. What we have to remember, is well written in that excellent book, ‘The Little Prince’ where the author makes the point: “You become responsible forever, for what you have tamed — It is only with the heart that you can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Where do we go from here?

Once again surrounded by the lack of technology, and an abysmal goal-line decision that deprived England of an afterwards proven goal, our international team was ‘knocked out’ of the World Cup, in the first ‘knock-out’ stage of the competition, by our old soccer adversary – Germany.  Had the goal been allowed – as it rightly should – then that could have made a difference to the eventual outcome.  However, many would agree that England, in the four matches they played, never came ‘up to scratch’ and Germany’s victory was largely a forgone conclusion, once the second-half began, against a demoralised England team. 

Many would agree, also, that Germany were the far better side, and that England, playing as they did in the series, did not deserve to go through to the next round.  Obviously, this has resulted in massive disappointment – both in the team, and through the nation – but unfortunately, the end result was not totally unexpected.   Some experts are now willing to be truthful and say, from the start, they did not expect England to win, even though the expectations of the majority of the English people were high.

Having given all this some considerable thought, I now pose questions as to the people of Britain and their expectations, but in a different direction.  Are their expectations high?  Do they have dreams full of hope? How healthy is their outlook? Does it promise joy in their lives – together with a sense of purpose.  Do they look forward with optimism, or with a dread sense of pessimism concerning what the future holds? Interesting questions!  The difficulties begin when one starts to think that there may be no easy answers.  So where do we go from here?  With an ‘ear to the ground’ one hears statements such as: “I’m glad I’m not growing up today, I don’t know how I would cope with all the pressures that our young people face!”  Listening to such exclamations, I then start to wonder what young people might think of this way of thinking.  Most, I guess, would not take a ‘blind’ bit of notice! Yet, there is a significantly high number of suicides among young people, and the numbers appear to be on a rising trend.  In the past six months, alone, there have been three such regrettable deaths in our parish. Could it be that pessimistic talk, concerning present and future outlooks, depress them to some extent – perhaps putting even more pressure on young, already-stressed-out minds?

Leaving the England football team well aside, there are the others who feel that England – as a nation – has ‘gone to the dogs’, largely, they argue, because society has lost its traditions of respect, discipline and manners.  Everywhere, we are besieged by unruly ‘louts’ who have never learned, and do not know, how to behave. This shade of opinion would, no doubt, argue that discipline has been the greatest loss.  Often, in school, should a young person get ‘hauled over the coals’, then his or her parents lose no time in presenting themselves at the Headmaster’s door to complain – vociferously, and all too often with venom.  Without even hearing the other side of the story they take the view that their child has been unfairly treated. Against this, we often hear from an older generation that: ‘”When I did something bad in school, not only did I get a smack from the teacher but I got it twice as bad when I got home!”

Up to this point, we have been concentrating, mostly, on the young – but they are only a minority of the population. What about the more mature and the elderly?  Adults – some of them –, are no angels.  Among many sections of our society the observer would conclude that the behaviour of the adults leave much to be desired.  Here too, there is drunken, loutish language and conduct that falls far short of the exemplary.  The old fashioned neighbourliness has largely disappeared and it is not unknown for neighbour to take neighbour to court over the height of the intervening hedge, or because one has overstepped his boundary by an inch or two. No longer do they help each other as they once did – especially when there is someone in need.  Communities, people have become imbued with ‘self’, so much so, that even in traditional Lancashire settings, many people do not ‘know’ the people they live close to, do not know their names or anything about them, and this is something that never used to happen. A small discussion group in St. Mary’s proclaimed, recently, how they found few friendly Lancashire neighbours in their experience. I, myself, have seen old ladies throwing litter out of a car window – so it would be wrong to blame all society’s wrongs and failings on young people.

From the discussion so far, it is clear that all these factors – circulating and intertwining throughout the population, and involving the young and the not-so-young – dynamically affect the outlook and expectations of individuals, groups, communities, authorities and society as a whole.   The ‘model’ is extremely complex and, as I said a moment ago, dynamic, and so, although generalisations are dangerous, it would come as no surprise to me if the results of a national survey tended to show that, today, England manifests low levels of expectations, and that this is accompanied by a sense of depression and fear for the future, for many of its citizens.

That’s the bad news.  Now here comes the good!  On Tuesday, 29 June we celebrated the great feast of Saints Peter and Paul – a Holy Day of Obligation for we Catholics.  On such days – just like Sundays – we are expected to celebrate the feast by attending Mass, thereby becoming one with the Lord through the sacraments; at the same time we are rejoicing in these two ‘giants’ of men – the ‘foundation stones’ of our faith.

When you put your minds to it, the world has come to know the Resurrection of Jesus through the Church – the people who, from the beginning, have been the followers of Jesus. Jesus, before he died, proclaimed the Gospel in his words and deeds, but did not proclaim his own Resurrection. This supremely important event was proclaimed only after his death, by those who knew he had risen; they had seen him, and when the Holy Spirit came on the Apostles in the Upper Room, Jesus – raised from the dead – lived in them and among them. The people who have since, and who now, make up the Church, have to thank the Apostles.  Chief among this, Peter was the centre of their unity, and Paul, another Apostle, not among the original twelve, (thirteen including Matthias), but always ranked as one of them, for their faithful proclamation of the Resurrection. It is the Resurrection, which proclaims the message that Jesus is alive today, and lives among his people – and that gives the most important and singular ‘go-ahead’ for high expectations in peoples’ hearts and minds. Talk about ‘Good News’ – people today can speak about and know the risen Jesus – very like the first followers of the risen Lord.

Paul was the ‘chosen one’ of God who proclaimed the Gospel to the Gentiles, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, dug the ‘footings’ for the foundation ‘stones’ for the practical construction of the Church, albeit that, in a sense, through the members of the Church, the risen Jesus proclaims his own Resurrection, for if any human being does any “good” he or she does so by the power of God – by what we call – the grace of God. “Not to us Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory” (Psalm 115).

The essential message of the Resurrection has to make sense, in a very practical way, in our world. If one follows that message – the message of Jesus and life – it leads, inevitably and inexorably, to a new way of life for ‘all the people’.  It leads to the “good ordering of life among peoples” with laws laid down for “the common good”, with institutions set up “for the common good” and all based on the logical corollary of the best human values, being lived, in practice, for human beings, by human beings. Such a civilisation – a good civilisation – is built by ‘blood, sweat and tears’, and takes a long time to achieve.  From this high promontory, it is but a small stepping stone to, what in my mind, was the most famous speech of Abraham Lincoln.  Called the Gettysburg address, it was made on the spot of the famous battlefield, wherein between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans became casualties in the three-day battle. Although the speech was very short, indeed, its ending carries the ‘punch-line’:  “… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 The Battle of Gettysburg 1-3 July 1863

This battle marked the turning point in the American civil war.  Involving over one million casualties, it was fought to ensure the basic principle of the American constitution, that all men are created equal. Slavery, in principle, was defeated in America (and elsewhere), even if in practice it lives on to this day, in different forms.  Civilisation, with its laws, does not come cheap!

St. Augustine of Hippo (Died 330 A.D.) wrote the text of the reading we had on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.  In the office of readings, it began:

“This day has been made holy by the martyrdom of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. I am not here speaking of some unknown martyrs. ‘For their fame has penetrated every land and their message has reached the ends of the earth’ (from Psalm 19). These martyrs saw what they proclaimed. They followed the path of integrity, professed the truth, and died for it.”

Augustine goes on to explain that although it was to Peter that God entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, he points out that it was the ‘whole Christ’ which received these keys. Peter, he says: “… stood for the one, universal Church when the Lord said to him, I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven”. The ‘whole Christ’ means the whole Christian body – all the people who are followers of Christ, Bishops, Priests and People. All have access to unlock the door to the kingdom, a kingdom that is very close to us and we do so in unity with the successors of the Apostles, the Bishops, and in unity with the successors of the one who represents Peter, the Bishop of Rome, who, of course, is His Holiness the Pope. The important point to underline, here, is that in the enterprise,

Saints Peter and Paul, Pray for Us

Finally, Augustine goes on in the reading to proclaim that “One day is assigned for the celebration of the martyrdom of two apostles. But those two are one….Let us love their faith, their life, their trials, their passion, their profession and their teaching”. 

I have given this reading long and serious consideration.   From it, I believe, flow some important consequences for ourselves as a nation. If, one day, we are to become a people of ‘great expectations’ within a nation, and under God’s ordnance, taking us to a new birth of freedom (with deference to Abraham Lincoln), we will do so, not by going backwards to a past era and its way of living and behaving, but by forging ahead, to a new ideology, based on principles that come from the source of true hope, from where hope springs eternal, Jesus – Jesus,  raised from the dead, darkness and evil defeated, goodness and truth prevailing and all for the common good. If we are to progress along this road to new expectations, and the common good, there will be a costs to be paid, and in those we will find meanings, underlined by the Passion of Jesus. Following our Master, we will continue in the steps of Peter and Paul – and countless others, like St. John Rigby, whose feast we will celebrate, with our Archbishop, next Friday, 9th July at Harrock Hall. The future will witness us, a nation united in mutual giving and receiving of talents and gifts, with other nations, and other peoples, some of whom will be living with us, in this land of ours. As a nation, we have something unique to give, and share – One Commonwealth in a World of Peace – for there is a ‘genius’ in every nation uniquely contributing to the building of a New and United World.

Certainly, it will not be a newly-elected government (of whatever political persuasion) that will bring this about; rather, it will come from a movement among people, from the local to the universal, or as it has been called, from the ‘bottom up’ rather than the ‘top down’, but achieved by not ‘cutting itself off’ from any group. It will be a movement, among people, who have been convinced that there is a wonderful purpose and meaning to life; and it will come from a new knowledge, of the beauty and love, that is to be found in our greatest treasure – our Christian Life.