A Post-Brexit Homily by St. Beuno's Director Roger Dawson
Over the days since the referendum, I have felt confused and destabilised in a way that I have never felt before. Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC political editor, said that the result does not just turn politics upside down, it shatters all the previous assumptions; and that was before Michael Gove derailed Boris Johnson, and the Labour MPs’ vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn.
The referendum result is probably the most significant political and historical event since the Suez Crisis signalled the end of the Empire – and that was before I was born. We don’t know what will happen, we have no leader, no opposition and there seems to be – no plan. Even the Brexiteers do not seem to be rejoicing! And what’s more, the referendum result has revealed fractures and divisions in our society that were there on June 22nd, that probably I, along with millions of others did not know were there.
It is as though a UV light has been switched on to reveal fingerprints and there are the cracks – north -south; Scotland vs England & Wales; young-old; metropolitan – not-metropolitan; white – non-white; educated vs not well educated; elite – non-elite. This is a fragile time in a fractured society, and the future is uncertain.
But Christians are supposed to be people of hope. We have been here before, not just nationally, but in the history of the Church and of Israel. “Rejoice, Jerusalem, be glad! Rejoice, rejoice!”, we hear in Isaiah today. But for what? What are they rejoicing about? When we look at the context it reveals a very different story.
This text was written about 516 BC. About 80 years earlier Nebuchadnezzar laid siege on Jerusalem, captured the city, destroyed the temple and deported the people to Babylon, current day Baghdad. The deportations continued for about 16 years, and only the poorest were left in the ruined city. The Jews were slaves – again – in Babylon for about 50 years, and then Cyrus the new Babylonian king rescued them, returned them to Jerusalem, and rebuilt the Temple (their salvation came from outside Israel from a surprising source – a pagan king). When this passage from Isaiah was written the euphoria of the return has passed, the new temple is not as grand as the Temple of Solomon and the people are disappointed. But the prophet in this section is being sharply critical of the people, he condemns the temple ritual as too materialistic and neglecting the poor: “my eyes are drawn to the person of humble and contrite spirit who trembles at my word.”
Things are not good for them; and in the midst of this we get this passage: a poem, a promise that God is in the midst of it all with them, a promise of his saving presence. So can we say ‘Ahh!’ and sit back and say ‘It’s all going to be all right’? Sadly not. Christian hope is not like that; it is not shallow optimism, or certain prophecy. Christian hope is fragile, is a grace but one that has to be prayed for – to be received and ‘enacted’ to make the better future happen. The word “crisis” comes from the Greek word (‘krisis’) meaning ‘decision’: a crisis is a moment when decisions have to be made, where things can’t remain the same. It is a decisive moment, and if we are not part of the decision, someone else will be.
Crises are risky because they are threatening – things could get worse. But they are also opportunities – to make some real changes for the better; and they are moments when God can break through. Most of us don’t feel we have much influence over political events – but we can pray. God knows we need prayers at the moment.
We also need to talk about Christian values – which are after all only human values. This was largely absent from the debates and campaigns of the referendum, which were about what is good for us and the risk of it being worse for us. In this Year of Mercy, we remember the call of Christ to compassion; to love our neighbour (and “Who is my neighbour?”), of generosity and sharing; of those principles of Catholic Social Teaching of solidarity and justice; and the vision of the Kingdom of God where all people’s dignity and rights are respected (not just those of one nation), a kingdom of love, justice, peace and forgiveness. That’s what we hope for, and that’s what we pray for. And what about hope? Jesus tells his disciples to say to people, ‘The kingdom of God is very near to you!’ Maybe we need to say that to people, or better still make some signs or evidence of it clearly present! Maybe we need to say it to ourselves. ‘The kingdom of God is very near to you!’
Fr Roger Dawson SJ
3rd July, 2016