SERMON BY THE VICAR
Feast of Peter & Paul
The Church keeps the Feast of Sts Peter & Paul today, going back to ancient origins of the commemoration of their martyrdoms on June 29th, in the Gregorian calendar. Their relics were also translated on this day. Relics are an important part of our Christian story. You may know the story of Gervais Phinn, a former inspector of Schools in Yorkshire who once telephoned a church school, dedicated to st John the Baptist, to get the aswermachine with this message. “This is the head of John the Baptist speaking. Please leave your message after the tone.” As we know, the relics of St Peter are presently in Rome, and form a basic foundation in the claim of the Bishop of Rome to be the successor of St Peter. In the Eastern Syrian tradition, St Peter was Bishop of Antioch before he was Bishop of Rome, so this is one of the many disputed claims within the Christian Church. Nevertheless, contemporary ecumenical convergence, especially for Anglicans and Roman Catholics afford His Holiness the Pope a primacy of honour, even if not of jurisdiction. One of the roles of the Pope, within this primacy of honour, is to address the oikoumene - the whole inhabited globe. This he has done with his encyclical, published last week, entitled, Laudato Si or “Praised Be” from the Canticle of the Sun by St Francis, his Patron. It addresses the twin themes of climate change and population movement, and I give you a brief summary.
1) Climate change has grave implications. “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever.”
2) Rich countries are destroying poor ones, and the earth is getting warmer. “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.”
3) Christians have misinterpreted Scripture and “must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”
4) The importance of access to safe drinkable water is “a basic and universal human right.”
5) Technocratic domination leads to the destruction of nature and the exploitation of people, and “by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.”
6) Population control does not address the problems of the poor. “In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life.” And, “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion.”
7) Gender differences matter, and “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.”
8) The international community has not acted enough: “recent World Summits on the environment have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment.” He writes, “The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.” And, “there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago.”
9) Individuals must act. “An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness,” he writes. We should also consider taking public transit, car-pooling, planting trees, turning off the lights and recycling.
10) “By the way, why are we here on Earth in the first place? “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” he writes.
So here, in nutshell, is what the Pope presents. For him, and for Christians generally, these are not simply scientific and technocratic questions, but also spiritual ones “Why we are here on earth in the first place?” is a question addressed to everybody on the planet. It is addressed to the billionaires of our Borough, as it is addressed to the drowning refugee in the Mediterranean, without distinction. And here’s the rub, because climate change will continue to force mass migrations of people as we see right now across Europe. This too is a moral and spiritual question and I for one hang my head in shame at the UK Government’s shameless and shameful policy in this regard. Take refuges from Syria, torn apart by a brutal civil war. Between 2013 and now, the UK Government has accepted 80 vulnerable Syrian refugees. In the same period, the German Government has accepted 20,000. This figures speak tragically for themselves.
So on the Feast of St Peter & Paul, we thank God for the prophetic ministry of Pope Francis, and for all those prophets – bishops, priests, and deacons, who commemorate their ordination on this day. We pray for the 40 deacons to be ordained in our cathedral next week, all called to a bold and prophetic ministry in our city. We thank God the churches are far ahead of governments and civil society in addressing the twin evils of climate change and people trafficking. We thank God for the apostolic ministry throughout the worldwide church, and we continue to pray for its well-being and its safety as it carries out its ministry, founded on the rock of the Apostles.