Archbishop Kevin McDonald
The London bombings prompted a lot of discussion about the presence of people of other religions and cultures in Britain, about what it means to belong to a multi-cultural society and about how we are to live together.
The Prime Minister said very strongly one day that people who come to Britain are welcome but they must respect our values, our views of freedom and democracy. Cardinal Cormac MurphyO’Connor has rightly stressed the importance of this.
Yet there is another side to the question. How have we used our freedom and our democracy? Our freedom – the freedom now to buy alcohol 24 hours a day, and to undertake all kinds of experimentation on embryos, just to name two current issues. And what of our democracy that permits abortion so easily and has taken us to war in the Middle East twice in the last few decades against the will of the spiritual leaders of the western world, most particularly of the Pope?
When people come here from other cultures, they see a spiritual and moral void. They see a culture that has forgotten its faith, and hence its moral bearings; that has lost its religious identity. We should not be surprised then that they want to fill that void.
That is why it is so important that we make a point of affirming and manifesting and celebrating our Catholic faith: by receiving Holy Communion together we express and ratify our communion of faith with the Catholic Church throughout the world and specifically our communion with Pope Benedict, successor of Peter; our communion in the truth, the truth that sets us free.
Another thing that happened this year, demonstrating the point I’m making, was the referendum on the European Constitution. It was rejected in France and Holland but what was significant was the reluctance of those who wrote it to refer to the spiritual and cultural roots of Europe in Christianity. Europe is a continent that has lost its faith, lost its memory, and so lost its identity. Yet all over Europe there are churches, chapels and cathedrals – places built to remember: to celebrate the Eucharist, which is precisely a memorial, where the death and resurrection of Christ is not only remembered but is made present, where we offer with Christ the sacrifice to the Father; churches where the Blessed Sacrament has been reserved, where the Lord has been present and remains present. It is a presence which responds to the plea of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, to the deep loneliness of the human spirit which says “Stay with us Lord.” We can’t hand on what we have forgotten, but visits to holy places such as Aylesford are an opportunity to celebrate the presence of Christ among us, to worship him, to remember how and why we are a people, and to be inspired and strengthened to hand on to others the faith we have received.
World Youth Day was just such an event. A million people – most of them young – gathered around the successor of Peter, the Pope. It was a demonstration and a celebration of the reality of the Catholic Church, especially here in Europe. I was privileged to be one of the catechists affirming our young people in their Catholic identity. The witness of young people can inspire us to keep the flame of faith alight and to rekindle the life of the Church. But to do that we need to have our own faith rekindled. We need to recognise Christ afresh, the Son of God made man and present each day in the form of bread and wine. “Stay with us, Lord.” Some years ago the Pope wrote a book entitled An Introduction to Christianity in which he said that believers today will inevitably experience doubt. You can’t live in the world in which we live without experiencing doubt. Likewise, those who reject the Christian faith will also inevitably experience doubts about their atheism or their agnosticism. But life without faith is a flawed and empty life. We who try to live in faith must recognise that we live more fully and more deeply because of that faith. Our lives are not based on our ambitions or fears, but on the recognition that we have a reference point outside ourselves – outside our own fears and sins: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is present, who comes to meet us, who speaks to us through his words in the scripture, who offers forgiveness for our sins, who feeds us with his body and blood.
We don’t need to be closed in on ourselves. A world without faith is a closed world. God loves us, he gave his only Son who died for us and this love is available to us today if we would take it and receive it. That is true life.
In making an act of faith and in receiving that life we find our true selves, and this is not a purely individualistic thing. Our efforts to bring justice and peace to our world must derive precisely from the Eucharist where we have a glimpse of a society in which everyone shares equally in the fruits of the earth and the work of human hands: where the hand of friendship is extended to everyone. The transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord is a foretaste of a world transformed by grace. And as we celebrate the Mass we cannot but have in our thoughts and prayers those who suffer because of war, of terrorism, of poverty and injustice.
In the Gospel, the two disciples walking to Emmaus did not recognise Jesus as he walked along with them. But, at the breaking of bread, they did recognise him. As Catholics we are given an opportunity, an invitation, to recognise Jesus Christ, who calls us as he called his apostles and invited them to follow him, to leave their own concerns and really find themselves through faith in him.
Each time we celebrate Mass we have the opportunity to follow Jesus and to recognise him afresh, to let go of our doubts and questions and anxieties and simply to say “yes” – “Yes, Lord: I believe you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Today in the Church we have many great problems and questions and challenges but the most fundamental issue of our day is faith in Jesus Christ, recognising the love of God for each of us, and evangelising – sharing, telling what we have received.
The Most Rev Kevin McDonald is the Archbishop of Southwark. This is an edited version of his homily at the diocesan Day of the Eucharist at Aylesford Priory on September 17