civic mass 2024

The Civic Mass

The Civic Mass

Last Sunday, the First Sunday of Lent, the annual Civic Mass was held at the Cathedral. Present were many civic dignitaries from Portsmouth, former mayors, members of the City Council, including the Deputy Lieutenant, Penny Mordaunt and Stephen Morgan our MPs (pictured) Here is the homily I preached at the Mass.

I must offer a warm welcome to the Deputy Lieutenant Arabella Birchwood, to the Lord Mayor Tom Coles, to the Commodore, to our MPs, Penny Mordaunt and Stephen Morgan, to the Leader and members of the Council and to all our civic dignitaries with us today. I always look forward greatly to this annual Civic Mass because it gives the Catholic community an opportunity to honour you. In the name of the Lord, thank you for all you do to serve our great city. As leaders, you carry heavy burdens and great responsibilities; you do so for our sake and for our service. Thank you for this, for caring for all, especially for Portsmouth’s poor and needy. And thank you for respecting the many people of religion in this city, not least the Catholic population, c. 1 in 15. In this Mass, we pray for you; we ask the Lord to guide you; we ask Him to give you strength and joy.

This year the Civic Mass falls in the season of Lent – but let me come back to this in a moment. For this is also the year of a General Election and, as we saw this week in the by-elections in Wellingborough and Kingswood, the political parties are already shaping up their manifestos. There is much talk about the need for change, the economy, cutting NHS waiting lists, controlling immigration, the state of the public services and so on. Yet there are two very fundamental concerns that need our attention.

The first is raised by today’s First Reading from the Book of Genesis: creation. The Book of Genesis, the first of the Bible’s 73 books, is full of epic stories, like today the Flood, Noah’s Ark, the re-creation of the world, and the rainbow, the symbol of God’s abiding love for His world. Genesis is all about the question: What is Man? What does it mean to be human? Why male and why female? What’s the purpose of the universe? And what brings happiness? In the early 21st Century all these questions have become hot button issues as seen in debates about gender, climate change, A.I. and assisted suicide. May I suggest we reread Pope Francis’s Encyclical Letter Laudato Si? In it, he sees the care of creation as a crucial moral issue, but it’s not just about plastics on the seabed or using more solar panels. It’s about a holistic anthropology: How to live rightly in this beautiful world, how to ensure everyone can prosper, how to enable the poor to share in God’s abundance. And his proposal is this: we need to live more simply. So as we come to the General Election, what is our vision? How will our leaders help us to be better stewards of creation? Indeed, how will they help us to live more simply – good for the Earth, for the poor, for us all.

A second concern is raised by today’s Second Reading: the role of religion. St. Peter speaks of faith in Christ, the waters of baptism and the role in society of religion. Each one of us wants to be happy, to love and be loved, to have meaning and purpose, a vision to live by and a hope to die for. In this, religion is key. It raises the big questions; it’s about hope and vision; it forms our spirituality, our core beliefs and values; it inspires us to self-sacrifice, virtue and charity, and enables us to face tragedy and crisis, even death itself. True, many say these days they are not religious, or they are not sure, but Britain is a hugely tolerant society, multireligious and multi-ethnic. So how can we ensure it remains so, open to the Transcendent, open to religion, open to the spiritual? Without this, how will we help our young find the right path, the right values and growth in virtue? That’s why in the Election, my hope and prayer is that parties, candidates and voters will not become so fixated on details, as to ignore the big questions, how to help our young live a spiritually integrated life.

This last Wednesday, we began the great season of Lent, 40 days like Jesus in the Gospel when the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness to be tempted and tested. The word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon lencten ‘when the days lengthen’, springtime. Lent is spiritual springtime, when God renews us, when God offers a fresh start, when God seeks to forgive our sins and to correct our faults. St. Leo the Great, one of the fathers of the Church, urges us to bite the bullet with the three great works of Lent: prayer, self-denial and charity. By prayer, self-denial and charity, God will cause within us a lencten, a lengthening of life, a spiritual rebirth. So I’d like to invite everyone, the whole city of Portsmouth, religious or not, to join us for Lent. After all, these works of prayer, self-denial and charity are good for our bodily and emotional well-being, let alone our spiritual. So, in this Mass, as we pray for peace in Ukraine and the Middle East, as we pray for King Charles and the Royal family, for our national and local government leaders and all who serve in public office, let us also pray for ourselves. May this be a good Lent. May it be a time of renewal. May it help us clarify our vision, open ourselves to the Transcendent, and to grow in friendship with God our Father and Creator. For as Jesus said, the time has come. Let us repent and believe the Good News.