Tuesday, May 4, 2010

SS Philip & James - Christopher Johnson

This homily was given by first year ordinand, Christopher Johnson, at Evening Prayer on Monday, the feast of SS Philip and James.

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8f.)

Following the example her Head, the Church’s mission is to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to help the blind to see, and to let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18). Easier said than done; and rarely is the Church bold enough to employ this literally, though the kingdom, especially for St. Luke, was one that could be (at least partly) realised in this life, as well as something promised and waiting to be experienced. Tonight’s reading from Deuteronomy reminded us of the values of that kingdom: ‘Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue’ – a poignant reminder, in fact, of the Christian vocation when it comes to casting our vote this week. Still, general elections are not the only time when we might pursue justice. The Greek of the New Testament relates the concept closely to righteousness – which is not so much an abstract reality, but is an aspect of God, and, as St. Matthew informs us, can be shared and must be pursued by mankind. ‘Blessed are those’, he writes, ‘who hunger and thirst for righteousness’, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’, ‘For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom’ (Matthew 5:6, 10, 20). Righteousness and justice are values of that kingdom, and Christ’s Church and disciples are called to live out those values here in our earthly pilgrimage.

Ss. Philip and James lived lives which embodied these values, and died deaths which exemplified them further. Their deaths cried out the words of St. Peter – ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading’ (1 Peter 1:3). Philip and James were privileged to share in such blessings as their earthly pilgrimage ended and they took their place in the Church Triumphant. Moreover, they provide an example to us of Christian witness; the end and beginning of which is the greater glory of God. ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!’ (1 Peter 1:3). Unlike Philip and James, though, whose witness may have been strengthened by that close encounter with our Lord as He walked on earth, our eyes have not seen Him – at least not in the same way. Yet, our own witness should still be motivated by love: ‘Although you have not seen Him’, writes Peter, ‘you love Him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy’ (1 Peter 1:8).

As we were reminded by Fr. Peter not so long ago, like Philip and James, like the English Martyrs we celebrate tomorrow, and like St. George our country’s patron, we must face our own martyrdom. As visible witnesses of Christ and His Church, we are called not only to account for His Gospel, which is difficult enough in a world with values that are often in complete contrast, but we are also called to account for our own behaviour in light of that Gospel message. And as we have been reminded again recently, the two do not always tally. Yet our witness must continue – our Lord insists: ‘Go’, he says, ‘and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19f.). Go, he says, evangelise, incorporate, offer the Sacraments, teach the faith. Fight the good fight, for salvation is what is at stake; and however difficult modern society sees the Cyprianic dictum (ad Jub.), confirmed in the Council of Florence (1442), that outside the Church there is no salvation, the imperative to draw people in to Christ’s flock is still there, and more so now, for ‘salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers’ (Romans 13:11).

When, therefore, we are casting our vote this week, let us call to mind the true love of God manifested in all His Holy Martyrs. Let us offer ourselves, and our votes, to furthering Christ’s kingdom on earth, not only acknowledging that each person is created in God’s image, but that each is created in His image, ‘according to His likeness’ (Genesis 1:26). Let us, as St. Irenaeus explained (Adv. Haer., v:1), grow in that likeness by conforming ourselves to Him who is Truth, and let us do it with a passion to see His kingdom grow. Then we may hear the loud voice from heaven which proclaims: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!’ (Revelation 12:10-12).