17th / 18th October 2020

posted 30 Oct 2020, 03:12 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – World Mission Sunday (17 & 18/10/20)

The relationship between the state and the Church: sometimes, we can think: weren’t things wonderful back in the past, when England was a Catholic country? The king was Catholic, his advisors were Catholics, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York were Catholic archbishops, and to be a Christian meant to be a Catholic – the two were the same thing. But then came King Henry VIII who messed everything up. He broke with Rome, quite conveniently declared himself to be Head of the Church in England, and once a few awkward people, such as the monks, and the people who took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace, had been dealt with, then religion came under state control. Ever since then, we as Catholics, have been a bit wary of the state, particularly given the memory of the Catholic faith being banned for almost three hundred years. But weren’t things wonderful in the past? Well, actually, there were still problems. Just think of the martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury, also known as St Thomas à Becket. The then king uttered those words one evening, “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”, or words to that effect, and a few people overhear the remark, and decide to get into the king’s good books by killing St Thomas in his own cathedral. We always have to be careful of relations between the state and the Church.

Other countries have had similar problems. Take the Church in Spain. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the options for any citizen were to align with either the communists or with Franco. Clearly the Church couldn’t align with the communists – they hated the Church and were literally crucifying priests on the doors of their churches. You can even view photos of it if you wish. So the Church opted to support Franco. It meant that whilst in communist countries, if you went to Mass, your career opportunities were rather non-existent, in Franco Spain, going to Mass, or even daily Mass, was good for your career. But Franco wasn’t the perfect Catholic.

But let’s not forget that God does work through non-Catholics and non-Christians to achieve His purposes. Look at the first reading. King Cyrus was a pagan. But it was through him that God was going to bless Israel. If you look on the internet, some videos claim a similar thing for Donald Trump. If you look at the rest of the reading, it sounds a bit like him as well:

“to subdue nations before him

and strip the loins of kings,

to force gateways before him

that their gates be closed no more” (45:1)

Mr Trump isn’t exactly shy! Someone said that when he met with European leaders, his attitude was one of, I’m the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, whilst you’re just the leaders of small European nations. Some Americans are putting their hope in him that he will help in the battle to guarantee religious freedom and also for greater progress with the abortion issue. The issue is quite polarised in America, with the option of voting for the cutting back of abortion or voting for more of it, and it seems that one of the radio stations I listen to doesn’t like to mention that word, but tries to hint to it in other ways instead, perhaps fearful that people might wake up and start to question it. But question it we must.

Today we also celebrate World Mission Sunday, and in days gone by, one of the missionary approaches was to convert the king, knowing that then the conversion of the whole country would follow, or at least be a lot easier. You can question whether, with such an approach, some of the conversions were nominal conversions, i.e. people just converted in name, rather than in terms of true and deep conviction. In the second reading today, St Paul praises the Thessalonians, because, “when we brought the Good News to you, it came to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction”. Today, it seems that the state prefers Christians who are simply nominal Christians, as they are more likely to go along with whatever they say and not make strong stands in conscience against what they dictate. Nominal Christianity is also responsible for people in government claiming to be Catholics but then going against Church teaching on important matters, such as the abortion issue, but also others besides. Being a Catholic is not only about words, but also about power and the Holy Spirit and utter conviction. It’s no good saying, “I’m personally opposed to racism”, but then claiming it’s someone’s right to choose to be a racist and act in a racist manner. If something is wrong, then you stand up against it. The methods you choose may vary, but you don’t just go along with it. That’s true for any important moral issue.

So ultimately, all people, both citizens and rulers, have to acknowledge the power of God. We may have certain duties to the state, but the state isn’t God. Or to quote St Thomas More, who was executed by Henry VIII for not going against his Catholic faith: “I am the king’s good servant, and God’s first”.