14th /15th July 2018

posted 27 Jul 2018, 05:05 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (14 & 15/7/18)


I tend not to get too many complaints about my homilies – so far.  Whether that’s a good thing or not, I don’t know.  Maybe only some of the people who disagree actually tell me.  I can’t remember any complaints, as such, when I was in Birmingham, and in my first parish, I can only recall two instances.  One was when I mentioned in passing that Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor had been offered a place in the House of Lords, but had declined.  I said that he did so, in part, because it would have led to a conflict of interest.  Someone didn’t like this and said after Mass that if he had accepted, then he might have been able to better promote the Catholic cause in politics.


In the first reading, perhaps it’s not the best example to use, the priest Amaziah sends away the prophet Amos, telling him that his prophesying is causing national disturbance.  Just before the extract we heard, Amaziah went to the king of Israel and told him that Amos was plotting against him; in fact Amos has been predicting ruin if the country did not repent, which is not quite the same thing.  It can be a dangerous and complicated thing if the Church gets mixed up with the politics of kings and governments.  But what kind of a relationship should there be between Church and State?


In ancient times, when missionaries arrived, there was of course no Church.  But missionaries found that in certain parts of the world, if the ruler converted, the people followed – I’m speaking in broad brush-strokes again.  There was the Latin saying, cuius regio, eius religio, which meant that the people followed the religion of their leader.  In the Roman Empire, meanwhile, Christianity began as a troublesome sect, whose members refused to worship the Roman gods.  This was seen as a problem for the State, because they thought that if the gods were not worshipped, then they would withdraw their favour, and the State would fall apart.  It was following the rise of Constantine the Great that the Roman Empire became officially Christian, but there was a problem – Christians were divided.  Whilst the Church had always taught that Christ is both God as well as man, some disagreed and said that he wasn’t, following an influential leader called Arius, who put his heresies to music and got people singing them in the taverns and elsewhere.  Constantine realised that an empire divided over religion meant a divided empire, so he made sure that Church sorted the issue out.  The Council of Nicaea met and the Church re-affirmed that Christ is both God and man.  The longer creed that we say at Mass is descended from the Council of Nicaea – it was later added to as new heresies came along.


Meanwhile, fast-forwarding to England in the sixteenth century, there had been disputes between Church and State on various occasions over the years, but finally King Henry VIII seemingly brought everything under control – England broke with Rome, and he made himself Head of the Church of England, despite not being a bishop or a pope.  Once Henry died, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had more freedom to do what he wanted, because King Edward VI was just a boy, so he took the Church of England in a more Protestant direction.  After Queen Mary ascended the throne, England became Catholic again, but she only reigned for a few years, from 1553-58, and after that came Queen Elizabeth I, who took things in a Protestant direction.  With so many different religious opinions going around by this point, the Church of England under Elizabeth was a compromise between different factions.  To achieve this, a certain amount of skulduggery also played its part.


I mentioned that the first reading wasn’t perhaps the best example to use to show the difficulties with too close a tie between Church and State.  Even if the priest Amaziah had been completely independent of the king, he could still have told the prophet Amos, politely, to go away.  But if you work for the state as a minister of religion, it can be more difficult to be prophetic and to call the State to account.  You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.  So how should things be between Church and State?  There’s no “perfect” form of government and relationship with the Church, but this is what the Church asks for:  freedom of expression, teaching and evangelisation; freedom of public worship; freedom of organisation and of her own internal government; freedom of selecting, educating, naming and transferring her ministers; freedom for constructing religious buildings; freedom to acquire and possess sufficient goods for her activity; and freedom to form associations not only for religious purposes but also for educational, cultural, health care and charitable purposes (see the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 426).  All of these could be mini-sermons in themselves.  Basically, the Church needs to be able to be free to witness to Christ, and like the prophet Amos and the Twelve Apostles, to reproach, call to conversion, and be prepared to walk away if necessary.