Pope Benedict XVI sits on his cathedra in his Cathedral, the Basilica of St John Lateran
The Liturgy is always relevant and offers marvellous commentary on our lives and times at any given moment - hence the need to respect the integrity of the liturgy and to ensure that it is celebrated properly. Today's feast is so timely for us in Ireland - the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica - that feast which celebrates our unity in the Church and our union with the Pope. As you know the Basilica is the Pope's cathedral, and it is the Mother and Head of all the churches in the city and the world.
As our government is trying to dismantle our country's formal links with the Church, we Catholics in Ireland are reminded that, regardless of the nature of the relationship between the civil authorities here and the Holy See, we are still members of the Church, in union with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, the Vicar of Christ on earth, and that that relationship remains unchanged and as close as ever.
This may sound like treason, but it is not meant to be, but our first loyalty as Catholics is to Christ, and then to his Vicar on earth. Earthly states will pass away - none of them can offer us life beyond the grave no matter how great or noble they are. Earthly distinctions, loyalties and nationalities all pass away when we die - they are no more, and at the end of time nations will pass away.
When we stand before God we will not be asked if we were good citizens, a good Irishman who obeyed the civil authorities all the time, or a good English woman who honoured the Queen, or a patriotic American who put his hand on his heart at the National Anthem and defended the President. No, at the end God will examine us on our lives of faith, hope and love, on our allegiance to Christ and our love of neighbour. As St Peter reminds us we must respect our native land, "honour the emperor", he said, the representative of civil authority, but as St Thomas More said, we may be the king's (the state's) good servants, but ultimately we are God's first.
If ever there should come a clash between the civil authorities and the Church, while we respect the civil authorities, our first loyalty is to the Church. Now that doesn't mean that we ignore the sins committed by members of the Church, nor cover up as happened in Ireland with the abuse scandal - we take action and cooperate with the civil authorities to bring those who committed such crimes to civil justice, since such evils should have no place in the union of Christ's faithful. There should be a relationship of cooperation and mutual respect between Church and state. As citizens straddling both, we do our best to be faithful Catholics and good citizens, and in a real pluralistic democracy it is possible to live as such. It is when the state tries to usurp the place of the Church that troubles emerge. When the state wants to be the church, to undermine the loyalty of the faithful to their faith to have it for themselves.
Personally, I think this is what the Irish government is trying to do now. In this secularist age, the government is trying to redirect religious devotion and faith from the Church to the state, so that the teachings of the state have their first loyalty. Breaking with Rome is the means to affecting this. Once the union has been broken, a state church can be established, and then the source of union will be the state, of which the government is the head.
This is an old tactic which has been employed by civil authorities for centuries - in England twice - under Henry II and Henry VIII and his heirs; in Europe in the various kingdoms which became Protestant at the Reformation, and in Italy time and time again as petty lords sought to control the papacy and the bishops. As we read Church history we may feel uncomfortable with the image of the Pope on horseback leading his troops into battle and playing the role of a king, but in reality at that time it was the only way of making sure the Church could not be dominated by secular rulers. That the Papal States had to exist as an indication of how real was the danger of secular interests undermining the teaching of the Church. The election of the warrior pope, Julius II, was not an accident of history.
And this is why the Church has its own country, the Vatican City State - the Pope is subject to no secular ruler, he is monarch of an independent, sovereign state so he may be free. It is no wonder then that aggressive secular states do not like the Vatican, and do not like to be reminded that they have to deal with it according to certain established norms. That may sound unchristian and pedantic, but in reality, at the end of the day, it guarantees the freedom of the Church and her members.
Thomas Peters has an interesting post on this today. He sees that the so-called liberals favour this development, choosing to follow the magisterium of the state in opposition to the Magisterium of the Church. I am inclined to think he has a point there. The liberals, you see, are left wing, Marxist, socialist, and the ideology of the left is all about more state control - investing everything in the state. The great Marxist experiment proves the truth of this - the Soviet Union. While that civic entity has passed away, its supporters are still trying to realise the Marxist dream. So I suppose their attempts to bring the Church into line under the state and to adopt the state's moral agenda is consistent with their ideology. Of course the Church resists and takes a stand, and then the state throws a hissy fit, Premiers have tantrums in national parliaments and governments downgrade diplomatic relationships.
Anyway, today let us remember our Holy Father and pray for each other, the members of the Church: united in Christ and in Peter.
Now, as we raise a toast to the Holy Father and the Church, I think it is time for a little bit of MacMillan and his rousing antiphon Tu Es Petrus, performed during the Holy Father's visit to Britain. Turn it up, sit back, knock off the shoes, take out the rosary and say a decade!