Galatians 5:1, 13-18
‘You were called, to freedom; but be careful, or this freedom will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love’ (Galatians 5:13)
The last couple of weeks have witnessed dramatic events that have shaken this nation and that will have severe repercussions for years to come. Prior to this I felt that as an EU national myself I should not meddle into politics or talk about something for which I was not allowed not vote. Yet, I am now convinced that, as your parish priest, this was the wrong thing to do. But the result of the referendum is not the main reason for my change of heart; rather it is the frenzy of ill feelings that has been stirred up which worries me.
However you decided to vote last Thursday, we now must take stock of what has happened, and of what is happening now in the light of faith. Only if we do this we can clearly chart the route ahead as a Christians. The EU referendum result has stirred up emotions and resentments that are unbecoming to a historically Christian nation. On 16th June, one of the Members of Parliament, Jo Cox was shot by a right-wing activist who killed her seeing her as a traitor. This was an unpreceded act of violence against a democratically elected representative of British subjects. A few days later graffiti appeared on the banks of the river in Durham saying, “Jo Cox deserved it. Durham next.” In other places activists have since been seen holding banners reading “Stop immigration, start repatriation”, countless interviewees on the telly have been heard saying, “I am not racist, but…”, and EU nationals have received notes through their door saying “God away, you scum”.
On the opposite side, angry young people have taken to the streets of London on Friday to manifest their deep seated resentment towards the older generations accused to have “stolen their future”.
The results of the referendum have been hailed as an “independence day” by many who supported the Leave campaign. If Friday was “independence day”, then whatever independence has been achieved it came at the price of breaking up the United Kingdom, widening the generational divide between young and old and filling it with resentment, thwarting the peace process in Northern Ireland, and fuelling racism. If this is freedom, then whatever freedom has been achieved was spearheaded by great referendum promises (such as more money for NHS and reducing immigration) that were quickly abandoned leading politicians as early as 6:35 on Friday morning; whatever freedom has been achieved was based on by lies.
As Christians we must be able to respond to the hate and racism that has been stirred up, whatever side we decided to support on Thursday. The archbishops have issued a statement on Friday morning using words such as “compassion” and “hospitality”, and inviting people to pray for much needed healing and reconciliation across the rifts that have been opened. That evening, at Mass, I spoke about the need to foster the virtues of patience, generosity, justice, and charity within our society.
“But this is our Country…” If we are Christians, then we are journeying towards a real country, the true homeland, where there will be ‘a great multitude …from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages’ (Revelation 7:9).
“But I don’t like immigration…” If we are Christians, then in faith we were immigrants in the patriarch Jacob he went into Egypt with his sons to rebuild his livelihood; in faith we were immigrants with the Holy Family when they escaped from the Bethlehem after Jesus was born.
“But young people cannot make good decisions…” If we are Christians, then in faith we were with Jesus when, as still a child, he amazed the teachers of the Law with his wisdom.
“But I am resentful because old people took my future…” If we are Christians, then we should listen to St Paul when he says, ‘Do not speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him as to a father’ (1Timothy 5:1).
Consider the words St Paul writes to the Galatians; ‘You were called, to liberty – to freedom; but be careful, or this freedom will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, instead, in works of love’. In fact, the NRSV uses even stronger words, ‘through love become slaves to one another’. Then Paul goes on to say, ‘If you go snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces […] you will destroy the whole community’ (Galatians 5:15). Let us meditate on these words as we move on from the dramatic events of the last few weeks.
As Christians we already have freedom, we already have had our true Independence Day, when Jesus rose from the dead. All the rest is insignificant when compared to this, and this liberty we have received should in itself be an instrument allowing us to build new communities. As Christians we must use our God-given freedom to shape our society, making it a place where hate, generational divides, unjust discrimination, fear of others, and racism cannot thrive because the good habits, the virtues, of patience, generosity, humility, justice, and charity are actively promoted instead.
May Our Lady of Walsingham, protectress of our nation, aid us with her prayers that we may have the courage and strength to do this. Amen.