Pope Francis, Brexit and ‘The Third World War in Pieces’
When Jesus* saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The horrific events in Nice on Bastille Day focus our attention away from Brexit to the wider context in which these events are taking place. Drawing a breath after the chaos of the last few weeks I find myself drawn (as usual) to the visionary words of Pope Francis. Over the past 12 months (repeated at the private audience we attended with him in Rome last November) he has spoken repeatedly that we are now in ‘una terza guerra combattatua a pezzi’ – literally ‘a third world war being fought in episodes (or pieces)’. Well I don’t think it is too far-fetched to see the events in the United Kingdom over the past few weeks as our response to this new heightened international situation. The Brexit vote can be seen largely as a response to the same incidents that caused the Pope’s words: the rise of international terrorism (as evidenced once again in Nice), the largest refugee crisis since 1945 and the economic crisis of the West. I am not the only one to compare events here over the past few weeks to the 1930s. In response to these events the British people have almost done the opposite of what they did in the 1930s. Faced with our international obligations and responsibilities we have decided to turn our backs on our European allies and look inwards. We shall only henceforth (and the new Cabinet reveals this) be concerned with our own economic interests. We will show little interest in coming to the help of our European allies, unless we gain some economic benefits. The contrast with other European nations, such as Germany, couldn’t be greater – however faced with the persistent onslaughts of these wider global events who knows how these other electorates may react in the future. If nothing else, we have learnt in the past few weeks that in these weird times previous voting patterns can no longer be taken for granted.
What is to be the Christian response to these events?
As we hear in Christ’s words in the Beatitudes, as His followers we are called to be ‘signs of contradiction’. What is valued by ‘the world’ will not necessarily be our priority. I would like to suggest that as the people of the UK choose their position for this time of international global crisis (and make no mistake, friends reading this from US and the rest of Europe – what has happened in the UK today will be happening in your countries tomorrow), Christians must now take the path of the Beatitudes, the path of contradiction. If our country continues along this road of national isolationism it will be beholden upon us to remember that our obligation is to all humanity, especially to the weakest and most suffering. What is for sure is that as the situation deteriorates there will be a concomitant increase in the vocation to the spiritual. We must all be prepared now to listen, help and educate those who will re-find the word of God again in these troubling times.
What should we do then at this time?
First, as I said before we must be penitent and make confession for our own narrow-mindedness and deafness to the calls of our fellow human beings. Also be aware of how our own actions have contributed to the deteriorating situation in which we find ourselves.
Secondly, we must be vigilant, in all our language and actions. We must be careful not to fuel the flames of hatred arising in our societies. We must be careful of building walls – whether they are national walls or walls in our hearts - another theme reiterated by Pope Francis in recent months.
Finally, we must remember that our true home and source lies in Christ. All kingdoms, all powers, all passports will pass away.
And, of course, beauty, truth and love will not pass away no matter how much humanity seeks to destroy it. I end with the words of that great European Brit, W.H.Auden, who knew a thing or two about confronting ignorance and prejudice in times of international strife.
Let us continue to pray for each other in these troubled times.
It’s natural the Boys should whoop it up for
so huge a phallic triumph, an adventure
it would not have occurred to women
to think worth while, made possible only
because we like huddling in gangs and knowing
the exact time: yes, our sex may in fairness
hurrah the deed, although the motives
that primed it were somewhat less than menschlich.
A grand gesture. But what does it period?
What does it osse? We were always adroiter
with objects than lives, and more facile
at courage than kindness: from the moment
the first flint was flaked this landing was merely
a matter of time. But our selves, like Adam’s,
still don’t fit us exactly, modern
only in this – our lack of decorum.
Homer’s heroes were certainly no braver
than our Trio, but more fortunate: Hector
was excused the insult of having
his valor covered by television.
Worth going to see? I can well believe it.
Worth seeing? Mneh! I once rode through a desert
and was not charmed: give me a watered
lively garden, remote from blatherers
about the New, the von Brauns and their ilk, where
on August mornings I can count the morning
glories, where to die has a meaning,
and no engine can shift my perspective.
Unsmudged, thank God, my Moon still queens the Heavens
as She ebbs and fulls, a Presence to glop at,
Her Old Man, made of grit not protein,
still visits my Austrian several
with His old detachment, and the old warnings
still have power to scare me: Hybris comes to
an ugly finish, Irreverence
is a greater oaf than Superstition.
Our apparatniks will continue making
the usual squalid mess called History:
all we can pray for is that artists,
chefs and saints may still appear to blithe it.