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.