Wednesday, January 5, 2011

England and the Papacy, Part II

In addition to the news of the bishops, nuns and other former Anglicans being received into the Catholic Church on New Year’s Day, with the bishops’ ordinations as deacons and priests coming soon, the after effects of Pope Benedict XVI’s September 2010 visit to the United Kingdom continue. He was invited by the BBC to record the “Thought for the Day” that aired on Saturday, December 25, Christmas Day:

Recalling with great fondness my four-day visit to the United Kingdom last September, I am glad to have the opportunity to greet you once again, and indeed to greet listeners everywhere as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. Our thoughts turn back to a moment in history when God's chosen people, the children of Israel, were living in intense expectation. They were waiting for the Messiah that God had promised to send, and they pictured him as a great leader who would rescue them from foreign domination and restore their freedom.

God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfils them. The child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, but not only for the people of that time and place - he was to be the Saviour of all people throughout the world and throughout history. And it was not a political liberation that he brought, achieved through military means: rather, Christ destroyed death for ever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross. And while he was born in poverty and obscurity, far from the centres of earthly power, he was none other than the Son of God. Out of love for us he took upon himself our human condition, our fragility, our vulnerability, and he opened up for us the path that leads to the fullness of life, to a share in the life of God himself. As we ponder this great mystery in our hearts this Christmas, let us give thanks to God for his goodness to us, and let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down: he gives us hope, he brings us life.

Dear Friends from Scotland, England, Wales and indeed every part of the English-speaking world, I want you to know that I keep all of you very much in my prayers during this Holy Season. I pray for your families, for your children, for those who are sick, and for those who are going through any form of hardship at this time. I pray especially for the elderly and for those who are approaching the end of their days. I ask Christ, the light of the nations, to dispel whatever darkness there may be in your lives and to grant to every one of you the grace of a peaceful joyful Christmas. May God bless all of you!

In the Catholic Herald, Francis Philips points out that this simple honest message was rather disappointing to one of the BBC’s presenters:

“Naturally enough, it was all too simple for John Humphrys. Questioning the Archbishop of Birmingham a little later on the Today programme, he was clearly disappointed that the Pope had not been more controversial. To proclaim the Good News is bad news for the air waves. We were reminded yet again of the vast gulf between the Fourth Estate and matters supernatural. Poor Archbishop Bernard Longley struggled to bring in Cardinal Newman and the idea of the development of doctrine. Humphrys was having none of it: “I’d rather you talked about the Pope than Cardinal Newman,” he interrupted. After all, Newman is old news, even dead news. And the Pope? Only good news if he is being controversial. If only he could have talked about women priests and condoms in his Christmas message, Humphrys implied, ‘Thought for the Day’ would have been much jollier. Sorry John: Christmas is about joy, not jollity.”

Also, on November 23rd last year, Queen Elizabeth II opened the Ninth General Synod and referenced the Pope’s message during his September visit as something the Church of England should heed(!):

In our more diverse and secular society, the place of religion has come to be a matter of lively discussion. It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue and that the wellbeing and prosperity of the nation depend on the contribution of individuals and groups of all faiths and of none. Yet, as the recent visit of His Holiness The Pope reminded us, churches and the other great faith traditions retain the potential to inspire great enthusiasm, loyalty and a concern for the common good.

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