Saint George's Cathedral
Tuesday, 23rd October 2012
We’re celebrating Mass this afternoon to mark the ending of the “100 Days of Peace”, which is based on the Olympic Truce. The original Olympic Games, as I’m sure you know, were games between the various city states in Greece, and were first held some 2,700 years ago. It was a time of strife, violence and war between those states. The Olympic Truce was a very practical and necessary initiative, started in the ninth century BC, by making a pact, or agreement between those Greek cities to cease all hostilities before, during and after the Olympic games to ensure safe passage for the competitors and spectators. Taking into account the global context in which sport and the Olympic Games exist today, the International Olympic Committee decided to revive that ancient concept of the Olympic Truce with the aim of protecting the interests of the athletes and sport in general, and to encourage all nations to search for peaceful and diplomatic solutions to the many conflicts in the world today.
Here in London, the response of the Church was to have a joint project for the three London Dioceses of Brentwood, Southwark and Westminster to promote and foster the ideas behind the Olympic Truce and to work for peace and harmony in our local parishes and communities and make them safe places for all of us to live in. It involved the Education Departments and Justice and Peace Commissions of the three dioceses and all our schools, linking up with Pax Christi, CAFOD, London Citizens, More Than Gold, and the Jimmy Mizen Foundation.
Archbishop Vincent, Bishop Thomas , and I commended this initiative, especially to you the pupils of our schools. During the lead up to the Games, we said that, “. . . we strongly support this initiative to create a peace legacy for the 2012 Games. Here is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Catholics within and beyond London to take action for peace, locally, nationally and globally to mark the Olympics and Paralympics. The modern Olympics were founded to spread peaceful cooperation through sport. Catholics in our three dioceses and beyond pray that the peace in our hearts, homes, and communities will be a prominent theme during London 2012 and prove a lasting legacy for future generations.”
So how might we help promote that legacy? Week by week we hear and read of violence and sometimes murder on our streets; we look at the news and see dreadful scenes of death and destruction in so many parts of the world, especially in North Africa, the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to name but a few. What do we do, what is God asking us to do in the face of injustice, violence, and destruction? Well, as Christians, as disciples of Christ, we first of all listen to the word of God as recorded in the scriptures over many centuries. Through those scriptures God speaks to you and me today and if our hearts are open to hear his word, he teaches us what to do and how to live.
In the first reading from the prophet Zechariah, we heard that beautiful description of God’s love for his people. He speaks of the time when Jerusalem, the holy city of the Jewish people, will be a place of harmony, peace and justice where old and young will live together and play together; a city in which there will be no poverty and food and wine will be plentiful. It will be known as “the faithful city”. Why will it be known as that? Because people will be living out God’s command to love one another as he has first loved us.
That is what St. Paul was urging the Church in Galatia to do, and in his letter to the Galatians he uses quite strong language because the Galatians, new Christians, had taken to bickering, squabbling and even being violent towards each other. Their behaviour was not that of true Christians; they were not living out the gospel of love but remained enslaved by their pride and selfishness and the bad behaviour which flowed from it. And he told them that if they carried on like that, their resentment, bullying, intimidation and violence would destroy the whole community.
There’s only one thing which would bring an end to such behaviour, then and now, and that is love - the love which God has for us, and the love he asks us to have for each other. The Galatians still hadn’t grasped the basic teaching of Jesus about God’s love for heard again today in the reading from St. John’s gospel: “I love you in the same way as the Father loves me. My love for you never changes. Remain in my love . . . This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love. This is my commandment, Love one another in the same way I love you . . . You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus Christ has shown us the way to be fully human and he asks us to model our lives on his. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Our faith and love for the person of Christ is made real and effective when we turn away from pride and selfishness and begin to love our neighbours as ourselves.
The scripture readings we have heard today speak eloquently of how much God loves us, how much he wants us to flourish, to live in peace and harmony with one another and build a better society and world. When we learn to really love one another, we change, and our communities change and become places of harmony, peace and justice. What does it mean in practice, to live a life of love? St. Paul tells us in Chapter 13 of his First Letter to the Corinthians: “If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all. If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.
Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is not 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. Love does not come to an end.”
To do that every day costs us a lot. But remember what Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said: “God does not ask us to be successful; he asks us to be faithful.” If we try our best, then we shall be given the gift of peace: “Don’t ever let your hearts be troubled or afraid . . . My gift to you is my peace . . . A peace which no one else can offer, this is my gift to you.”