24 June, 2016

Homily for the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist

Just a few notes I wrote down for my homily on the Birth of St John the Baptist.

‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time’ is a much quoted phrase of the early twentieth century British foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey, but in a sense these words seem to have renewed significance for us too in the immediate aftermath of the EU Referendum. But in fact, we could also slightly amend them and have them read, 
‘The lamps are going out all over [Britain], we shall not see them lit again in our life-time’.

However you decided to vote yesterday, it is clear today that the lamps of authentic civil virtues are waning and fading in the fierce storm caused by now busted election lies, volatile economy, and, ultimately, by particularly nasty pieces of nationalist rhetoric used by politicians and members of the public alike. Amidst this utter chaos, the virtues of patience, generosity, justice, magnanimity, and charity – the lamps of a civilised society – are fading. Night seems to be falling fast.

In a few regions of the UK the solemnity of the birth of St John the Baptist came to replace the pagan festival of the Summer solstice – the moment in which days begin to shorten and daylight begins again to fade towards winter. In these regions big bonfires were (and are still) lit and blessed on this occasion in honour of St John the Baptist, remembering that John, like the day-star preceding the sunrise, came to be the forerunner to Jesus – he came to herald the true light that never sets.

As we go move on from this historic and tumultuous day, as our political leaders try to find a way forward, as Christians we too must take on the role John the Baptist in the wider community and point towards the light of Jesus for a nation that now more than ever needs reconciliation and to rediscover the practice of virtue. We must become like John and make every effort to relight lamps of patience, generosity, justice, and charity in our society, preventing the long night of resentment and nationalism from falling.

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