These sufferings bring patience…and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope.
It is a blessing for us today that in the midst of all the anxieties and uncertainties that currently surround and affect us we still have the consolation of celebrating the Feast of St George – and that we are united by the live-streaming of this Mass. I am very conscious, on this feastday of our national patron saint in England, of my duty as Archbishop to offer encouragement and appreciation as you continue to live your Catholic faith day by day, despite all the difficulties and discouragements that come our way.
Whenever I visit one of our parishes I try to refer to the bishop’s responsibility to nurture and nourish the living faith of the people and the clergy by spending time with you in your own parish communities. I am very conscious that, because of the coronavirus, we cannot be together in our churches and cathedrals and I know that this is an additional burden – a real cross that we must carry for the present.
The story of St George, handed on and no doubt embellished through the centuries, has a truth at its core that is of great value to us today. He died as a witness to his faith in the saving death and life-giving resurrection of our Lord. His martyrdom highlights the Easter joy that we continue to feel, because he has taken his place in the company of the saints – all those who already live the new life of Easter in the Kingdom of God.
We know very little of St George’s life or death at Lydda in the Holy Land – but he was already honoured as early as the 4th century and revered as an example of patient suffering and redemptive grace. His witness echoed the medieval spirit of chivalry that led to his adoption as patron saint of England, in preference to other and perhaps more obvious national saints.
Nevertheless, St George’s reputation for courage in the face of evil and his faithfulness to Christ also echo the message of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans which we have heard today. It is a message that inspires and encourages us in the midst of our own challenges. Sufferings bring patience…and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope.
Day by day we hear on the news or from our friends and fellow parishioners of many people who are making that same journey from suffering towards hope – those who are sick at home or in hospital. We pray for them and for those who are caring for them – often demonstrating the kind of courage and faithfulness to duty that places the wellbeing of other people before their own.
In these unsettling days we have a real opportunity to witness to our faith here in England – to bring the Good News of Easter to our neighbours – especially by the example of our lives. Many years ago Pope St Paul VI said: the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life…”Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”…It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus – the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity.
On this feastday of St George – recognised by many as a model of service – we ask for the grace to witness as a Christian community in mutual concern for one another, but also ready to reach out to those who are most in need and to serve them as our Lord himself was ready to serve. May the risen Christ bless and strengthen you as his witnesses in the world.