In his Easter Sunday homily, to be delivered in St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh today, Cardinal Keith O'Brien calls on Scotland's Christians to unite "in the face of aggressive secularism to maintain our Christian heritage and culture in our great country". Cardinal O'Brien pays tribute to friends in the Church of Scotland and stresses all Christians "common ancestry" while restating Pope Benedict's hope that ecumenical relations will lead to "full visible unity" among Christians.
The Cardinal warns against moves to "destroy our Christian heritage and culture and take God from the public square" adding "Religion must not be taken from the public square!"
Full text of Cardinal O'Brien's homily follows.
For the past six weeks of Lent and especially during this last Holy Week we have been preparing for this day. Through our own acts of prayer, fasting and alms giving we have tried to enter more deeply in to the life of Jesus Christ, this life followed by his passion and death and then his glorious resurrection.
Truly we can say with St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed; let us celebrate the feast then in the Lord”.
And that is what we are doing now. Having commemorated the death of Jesus Christ the Son of God we now celebrate the feast of his glorious resurrection.
And this morning in our Metropolitan Cathedral here in Edinburgh where just a few months ago on the Feast of St Ninian 16th September 2010 we celebrated the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to our country and then just a few months later in St Giles High Kirk in Edinburgh the 450th anniversary of the Reformation I put before you first of
all some thoughts on Christian unity. Followed by that, I propose that the reason for our increased apostolate in seeking Christian unity must be our ongoing action together in the face of aggressive secularism to maintain our Christian heritage and culture in our great country.
JOURNEY TOWARD CHRISTIAN UNITY:
In thinking of Christian unity who can forget the visit of the first Pope ever to our country – Pope John Paul II speaking on the subject he stated clearly and unequivocally: “We are only pilgrims on this earth, making our way towards that heavenly kingdom promised to us as God’s children. Beloved brethren in Christ, for the future, can we not make that pilgrimage together hand in hand”. Along with our sisters and brothers in other Christian denominations, we have put that exhortation into practice fruitfully here in Scotland!
That call was re-echoed by Pope Benedict XVI when addressing a service of evening prayer in Westminster Abbey in London. Initially he referred back 100 years to what happened here in our Capital City when he stated:
“This year, as we know, marks the 100th anniversary of the modern ecumenical movement, which began with the Edinburgh Conferences Appeal for Christian Unity as the prerequisite for a credible and convincing witness to the Gospel in our time”.
We have indeed come far on our Christian journey together. I think back with a certain pride but with great humility when I was asked to address the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May 2004 shortly after my creation as Cardinal. I spoke then of a gift given to me by a now retired Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend Dr James Weatherhead, and his wife, when they accompanied me to Rome for that occasion. On the silver compass he had inscribed: “May the Iona silver be a symbol of our common ancestry in the Celtic Church. May the cardinal points of the compass help you on your way forward”. That visual aid reminds me that we must indeed: “Go back to our roots before we go forward – and never forget those roots and our common ancestry – but we must also go forward realising that our ecumenical journey is not yet complete.
As Pope Benedict XVI has stated: “The principle aim of ecumenism is to achieve full visible unity”. Perhaps a fore sign of that was given in the High Kirk of Edinburgh St Giles when together with the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church I joined with them in our
commitment together as we shared in the renewal of our baptismal promises in our commemoration of the Reformation of 450 years ago.
CHRISTIANS UNITED AGAINST AGGRESSIVE SECULARISM:
As we journey onward toward that unity for which Jesus Christ himself prayed we realise that we have a heavy responsibility even at this present time.
In those words which Pope Benedict XVI preached in Westminster Abbey he stated: “We must recognise the challenges which confront us, not only along the path of Christian unity, but also in our task of proclaiming Christ in our day”. Any Christian who has tried to live a Christian life, particularly any Christian who has tried to fulfil that task of proclaiming Jesus Christ and his teachings in our day will realise exactly what the Pope meant by these words.
Perhaps more than ever before there is that “aggressive secularism”; and there are those who would indeed try to destroy our Christian heritage and culture and take God from the public square.
Religion must not be taken from the public square!
In other words which he uttered in his address in Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster, Pope Benedict XVI emphasised the positive role of religion in society. He stated: “Religion is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation”. And he went on to add firmly: “In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance”.
Just a few weeks ago a Presbyterian Minister in the Church of Scotland contacted me to say how much he appreciated my comments at that time in support of religious freedom in other countries. My correspondent contrasted the promise by the British Government to act against the persecution of Christians in other countries, while apparently ignoring the increasing marginalisation of Christians in the United Kingdom.
I am sure his point was well made. Recently, various Christians in our Society were marginalised and prevented from acting in accordance with their beliefs because they were not willing to publicly endorse a particular lifestyle. You have only to ask a couple with regard to their bed and breakfast business; certain relationship councillors; and people who had valiantly fostered children for many years of their particular experiences – and I am sure they are not exaggerating them!
And as I was preparing these words I had on my desk a recently produced booklet of some 80 pages which was headed: “Marginalising Christians – instances of Christians being sidelined in modern Britain”.
Yes – Christians must work toward that full unity for which Christ prayed – but even at this present time Christians must be united in their common awareness of the enemies of the Christian faith in our country, of the power that they are at present exerting, and the need for us to be aware of that right to equality which so many
others cry out for.
Yes indeed our celebrations at Easter Sunday must indeed give us cause for rejoicing that Christ has indeed risen from the dead!
To you all today here in our Cathedral and those who are listening to my words through the Media I encourage that spirit of rejoicing. However I also ask for another spirit of realism to be in our midst. On the occasion just a few weeks ago at Holyrood when with other Christian leaders in our country I signed the statement from us prior to the forthcoming elections for the Scottish Parliament I was asked with the others at the open forum afterwards: “Do you still think that Christianity will be with us in 25 years time?” I answered rather belligerently that not only will Christianity be alive in 25 years time – but it will be flourishing!
I say that because of my belief in the Resurrection! I say that because of my belief in the courage of those of the Christian faith today as that so many times in the past when persecution was around our forebears! In the face of persecution once more I say to all Christians: “Christians be aware of your responsibilities; it is Christ’s own image that you bear in the sacrament of baptism; as you are aware of the past so too be aware of the strength of the faith which you, your children and your children’s children will need now and in the years which lie ahead!”
“Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed; let us celebrate the feast then in the Lord!”
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