What a week! In just three days, we’ve seen the inauguration of two of the world’s most important Christian leaders: Pope Francis aka Bishop of Rome, formerly Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio (pictured left) and Archbishop Justin Welby aka the Bishop of Canterbury, formerly Bishop of Durham (pictured right). Whether you happened to be a history fanatic, have a fetish for Clerical garb or simply enjoy pomp and ceremony with a bit of good music (except, perhaps in the case of Rome!) you were sure to get your fix this week!
That said, in the midst of all this excitement, one thing none of us could fail to realise is that both these men have begun their “jobs” with very hard and poignant messages for the people of God.
“Don’t forget the poor” – words one of his brother Cardinal’s whispered to Pope Francis just prior to his election, words which he has reminded us of in each of his public appearances, that we must become a “poor church for the poor” and that we must “protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!” Take Pope Francis’ message of care for the poor, and the urgent need for us to become ‘protectors of God’s gifts’ alongside the message given yesterday in Canterbury Cathedral by Archbishop Justin Welby, that we must take courage, be fearless, and know that: ‘There can be no final justice, or security, or love, or hope in our society if it is not finally based on rooted-ness in Christ’ and you can swiftly see that both these leaders have a distinct and unique emphasis as Shepherds of the flock. I have to say, that I do find it extremely refreshing to have witnessed the début of Archbishop Justin and Pope Francis, and the way in which both have decided to do away with some of the ancient traditions and formal baggage that usually come with the offices they hold. It is, without a doubt, an exciting time to be Christian!
As I write those words, I am reminded of Pope Francis’ decision to retain his ordinary black shoes, instead of the Papal Red shoes (a reminder of the blood of the martyrs) and I am also reminded of Welby’s statement yesterday, that: “Many Christians are martyred now as in the past.” So, in all honesty it would seem that my comment about it being an exciting time to be Christian is a sign of my lack of awareness of the persecuted Church throughout the world, as well as my taking for granted of the religious freedom I enjoy here in England – I suspect I’m not alone! Justin Welby was right to remind us of religious persecution today – more Christians have been martyred in the 20th century than in the whole of history! A fact which should shock those of us who practice our faith in total freedom today.
For the title of this particular post, I decided that I would use words from the Apostle’s Creed. The particular words in the heading are taken from the end of the last paragraph which reads: ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit,the holy catholic Church,the communion of saints,the forgiveness of sins,the resurrection of the body,and the life everlasting.Amen.’ Words recited at the celebration of Holy Communion in most of the mainstream Christian denominations, words which came out of the First Council of Constantinople in 381. I decided on ‘The resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.’ for one reason – If there is something that has stood out for me about both Justin Welby and Pope Francis, it is that when you look at them, you cannot for one moment hold ANY doubt about the sheer strength and vigour of their faith in Jesus Christ and the life to come – they believe it and they earnestly seek to live it. The faith of these men will, doubtless, cause those who would rather the Christian faith be silenced to tremble, and we need, I think, to take the Pope Emeritus’ words seriously when he warned his American bishops about the ‘radical secularism’ and ‘grave threats’ to the Christian faith. An important reality, which Justin Welby in particularly knows too well from his visits to Nigeria. We know from his interviews with the media that more than twice he’s come close to losing his life for his faith there, and his colleague the Archbishop of York has said that his ‘heart is in his mouth each time he goes there’ in regards to Justin’s visits. In short, I think that in Justin and Francis we have two bishops who are ready and willing to give their all for the faith that they proclaim, we have two bishops who (despite the smiles above) mean serious business and will deal head on with the issues that face the Church and society, and ultimately we have two bishops who are men of earnest prayer and unshakeable faith. All in all, whilst I’m not keen on some of the overly-optimistic views some people hold, and let’s be frank – none of these men are going to simply “sort it all out”, I am confident that under their leadership and oversight the body of Christ on earth will flourish and be nourished, the Gospel in all its fullness will be proclaimed, and the name of Jesus Christ through which all salvation comes, will be given praise and honour.
Already these two have made me think seriously about the future of the Christian faith and about the lack of intercession in my personal prayer for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing real persecution. The question we must always hold before us, even in reasonably comfortable times is: am I willing to die for the Gospel of Jesus Christ? So I wonder, are you prepared to shed your blood for your belief?!
The 24th March will mark the anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero (seen in the mural below), a bishop who was assassinated whilst celebrating mass at a small chapel in El Salvador – He had just finished preaching a sermon, calling on Salvadoran soldiers to obey God’s higher calling and stop carrying out violations of basic human rights against the people of God. He was shot dead whilst elevating the chalice in the Eucharistic rite. His life, during this time of Lent when we focus on the ultimate sacrifice, might give us a way into facing the reality of what can come when we preach the message of Jesus Christ in all its fullness – even to those who may take our lives for doing so.
For those who at this moment breathe their last for proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ –
‘May angels lead you into paradise; upon your arrival, may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem, May the ranks of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, once a poor man, may you have eternal rest.’
And for those of us who at this moment seek in word and deed to proclaim Christ’s Gospel –
Let us pray for bishops Justin and Francis and for all that they face, knowing that whatever the future holds – God’s promise of life eternal, both for them and for all who believe in Christ, shall bring us into glory with Him and all the Saints.
- ‘I believe in God, the Father almighty,
- creator of heaven and earth.
- I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
- who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
- born of the Virgin Mary,
- suffered under Pontius Pilate,
- was crucified, died, and was buried;
- he descended to the dead.
- On the third day he rose again;
- he ascended into heaven,
- he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
- and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
- I believe in the Holy Spirit,
- the holy catholic Church,
- the communion of saints,
- the forgiveness of sins,
- the resurrection of the body,
- and the life everlasting.