Archbishop Peter with
Councillor Ben Bano,
Mayor of Deal
Thursday, 14th October 2010
The scripture readings, specially chosen for today’s Service,
speak to us of the Gospel values of respect for others, of mercy
and gentleness, of peacemaking and the hunger and thirst for what
is right. These are founded on and underpinned by the greatest
value in the Gospel, unconditional love - God’s love for us, and
our love for him and for our neighbour.
The Old Testament prophets, speak eloquently of what pleases God: not simply engaging in formal, ritual sacrifice, but in the breaking of unjust fetters, letting the oppressed go free, sheltering the homeless poor, sharing our bread with the hungry and clothing the naked. And God’s people are called to act with integrity in their dealings with each other so that their light will be a beacon within the community and a guide to right thinking and acting. In behaving in this way, the prophets assure the people that God will always be with them to guide them and bless them.
In his life, teaching and ministry, Jesus Christ made it clear to his disciples that he did not come to abolish the law of the Old Testament but to fulfil it, and indeed to go beyond it. The Gospels reveal that he not only lived out those Old Testament values in his own life, but deepened and enhanced them. Truly blessed, he says, are those who are poor in spirit, those who are gentle, those who are merciful. Blessed are the peacemakers and those who hunger and thirst for what is right.
For Christians, the basis and motivation of this moral life and our attitudes towards others is the unconditional love of God for all people, irrespective of race, colour creed or ability. This is the love with which God first loves us and which is revealed in human form in the person, teaching and ministry of Jesus Christ. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said that it was twofold: “You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, strength and mind, and you must love your neighbour as yourself. What sort of love is Jesus speaking about, especially in terms of love of our neighbour? St. Paul very movingly draws out the meaning and consequences of that love in Chapter 13 of his First Letter to the Corinthians: “Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.”
We all have a duty, as citizens of all faiths and none, to engage appropriately and in accordance with our gifts and talents in political and public life, to promote the common good and do our best to help transform society for the better. I say that because, as a Christian, I believe that every person has equal dignity in the eyes of God; a dignity which is God-given and is not grounded in any human quality or accomplishment, nor in race or gender, age or economic status. Despite differences of nationality, race or religion there is one human family and we are made for one another. We are not self- contained, isolated individuals. We are mutually dependent on one another as members of the society in which we live and by virtue of our common humanity.
If we fail to understand and promote that essential element of solidarity with one another, then society begins to break down in the pursuit of individual self-interest - and we can all think of examples of that breakdown in recent years. The common good, on the other hand, serves human flourishing and promotes integral human development, and that requires “that people are rescued from every form of poverty, from hunger to illiteracy; it requires creating equal opportunities for education, creating a vision of true partnership and solidarity between peoples; it calls for active participation in economic and political processes and recognises that every human person is a spiritual being with instincts for love and truth and aspirations for happiness and the exercise of responsible freedom in the service of truth and love.
Recognising our duty to the common good is also crucial if we are to address the deep and pervasive problem that rightly worries many: the need to build up trust in society – between individuals, between the citizen and the state, and in our institutions. We all know that that trust has been severely eroded in recent years. However, if we go on down a path where we cannot believe anything good of anybody, we will ultimately create a world of individuals fighting for their own good at the expense of every other person. Society cannot change for the better without restoring trust in institutions, whether they be political, financial or ecclesiastical. Few need reminding of how major institutions have failed to live up to their calling. Members of Parliament have been pilloried for their use of expenses and allowances. Some Bankers have earned astonishing bonuses and brought the world economy close to collapse in the pursuit of ever greater profits. The Catholic Church too, in our country and in others, has had to learn some very painful and humiliating lessons in recent years in the way we have not dealt anything like adequately with the scandal of child abuse. And we too have come to understand only too well the damage inflicted when trust is betrayed.
Having said that, we all know from personal experience, the enormous value of individuals and especially leaders in public life who meet our needs with patience, compassion, skill and often great generosity. The challenge for society is to build up our structures and institutions so that they command the same respect and trust as the individuals who represent them best. We know it can be done, but it requires a new sense of service to others at the heart of our institutions.
Public life in Britain badly needs re-moralising and the injection into it of an element of sincere humility, if people are to regain faith in it. The restoration of trust in institutions, whether in politics or in business, places a particular responsibility on those in leadership roles. It is they in particular who set the tone and help shape the culture of the institutions they lead. Over time leaders can wield immense influence, and carry a heavy responsibility to help bring about a real transformation by their vision and example. As Pope Benedict XVI has said: ‘development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good‘. (Caritas in Veritate 71). That demands the cultivation of moral character, the development of habits of behaviour which reflect a real respect for others and a desire to do good. Trust can only be earned and restored if the conduct of those in public office is plainly motivated by a sense of service to others, and if they accept that personal character and moral standards are as relevant to public life as they are to private life.
This morning we give thanks to God for all those who serve us with integrity in public life, and we pray especially for you, Mr Mayor and your family, together with all those who serve the City and the County in public life. We ask God’s guidance and blessing on you all and assure you of our prayers, support and encouragement.