Address given at Evensong on the Feast of St Barnabas 2012
11 June 2012 at 17:00 pm
His Eminence Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
Your Grace, Mr Dean, Canons of the Westminster Chapter, dear friends in Christ,
It is with great joy that I offer you my greetings in this sacred and venerable Abbey of Westminster. I well remember my last visit to the Abbey, just over two years ago, when I was present with many of you for the visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict. His message for us on that occasion was a 'word of encouragement' and a call for fidelity to the word of God, both on the path of Christian unity and in the work of proclaiming Christ to the world. This is echoed in the reading from Ecclesiastes that we have heard this evening, which underlines the importance of choosing with care suitable words, which are both honest and true, in order to instruct the people. It is a task which is not without its difficulties and which in many ways can run counter to the spirit of the age, but which brings us closer to the will of God, and therefore liberates us and builds us up.
During his visit, Pope Benedict also venerated the great saint whose shrine is honoured in this Abbey, St Edward the Confessor. Reading his life, I was struck by his similarity to the second patron of my own former diocese of Basel, St Henry II. St Henry was some thirty years older than St Edward, and was canonised at about the same time. Like Edward, Henry was a man of great piety who ruled wisely, tempering justice with mercy. Just as Edward, King Henry built churches and monasteries, and had a particular devotion to St Benedict. Both of these royal saints considered their privileged positions an opportunity, and a claim upon them, to work for the good of those they governed. Their example reminds us to weigh carefully how we should use the gifts we have been given – among which are prestige and renown, the resources we command, as well as the friendship we share – to promote the well-being of our society, a well-being which can only be assured by Christ who reconciles and liberates us.
This evening we celebrate the Feast of St Barnabas, himself a brave and resourceful apostle, in the timeless worship of Evensong. The great liturgical tradition of the Church of England, exemplified in this reverent and uplifting celebration at Westminster Abbey, expresses the 'beauty of holiness' which is one of the most potent ways to proclaim the gospel effectively to our world. Our society, preoccupied with momentary pleasures and passing concerns, needs more than ever the dimension of profound holiness and the experience of sacred things that divine worship can impart. Beauty in worship is a particular concern of Pope Benedict, not merely for aesthetic reasons, but because it is a fruit of a deeper knowledge and love of God in Jesus Christ. For this reason I look forward with particular joy to the visit of the clergy and choir of Westminster Abbey to Rome later this month, to celebrate our common patron, St Peter.