I’m happy to be with you today for this Pastoral Visitation, and I thank Fr. Pepe and all of you for your warm welcome. I thank you for all you do here in Maidenhead to witness to the Catholic Faith. It’s 31⁄2 years since I became the bishop. Originally I come from Altrincham, Cheshire (up-north). This is not a part of the world I know (the deep south)! Our Diocese of Portsmouth is big, from here to the Channel islands, but as I get to know all the clergy and people, I feel very much at home.
Who do you say I am? Jesus asked in today’s Gospel. Peter answered: You are the Christ of God. But to avoid misunderstanding, Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about this. St. Edmund Campion too, when he arrived in London in 1580, gave strict orders not to tell anyone who he was. Born in 1540 and raised a Catholic, Edmund, an Oxford graduate and a fine orator, fell in with the new Anglican Church and was ordained a deacon. But later, studying in Ireland, he recanted and returned to his Catholic roots. He left for Rome to become a Jesuit. Indeed, with Fr. Robert Persons, he was the very first Jesuit sent on the English mission. He came here to minister in secret. But word got out, and soon he became the object of one of the most intensive manhunts in English history. It was in our own diocese at Lyford Grange near Wantage that a spy betrayed him. He was imprisoned in the Tower, tortured, then hanged, drawn and quartered. They charged him as a traitor, but really he was put to death for being a Catholic and a priest.
Who do you say I am? Jesus asks us in today’s Gospel. Your parish must be very proud to be under the patronage of this brave martyr, St. Edmund Campion. He fulfilled literally what Jesus said: If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it. To be a martyr (Gk. marturein) means to be a witness, a witness to Christ and in this sense, we’re all called to be martyrs. Jesus has personally called each one of us to be His disciple, to follow Him and to give witness to Him. Britain today is moderately tolerant of Catholicism: please God, we’ll probably not have to lay down our lives for our Catholic beliefs in the Pope or in the Mass. But in today’s secular culture what’s more likely is that we’ll be criticised, laughed-at or made to feel out- of-date for our views and values on homosexuality, contraception, abortion, euthanasia. It’s in the field of anthropology, what it means to be human, that we will find ourselves losing ground at home or at work. We’ll find ourselves saying: Sorry, I can’t agree with that. Sorry, we believe this. Sorry, we don’t do that. Sorry, we’re switching it off.
Anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it. As your bishop, the Apostle Christ as sent, I ask you: like St. Edmund Campion, please keep the Faith. Please don’t fear being countercultural. Please stand firm. We love our wonderful country, yet it needs our voice. People need our witness. They need to know Jesus Christ. They need to find the Way, the Truth, the Life. So in this Mass, in which Jesus lays down His life for us on this altar, let us pray today for Christian fathers, mothers and families. Let us pray for the young and for our wonderful parish school. And let us pray for ourselves that we may persevere always in the practice of our faith and so one day come to the joy and happiness of heaven, that St. Edmund won by shedding his blood.