Given at the International Mass at Westminster Cathedral on Sunday 18 September
The Scriptures we have heard this evening are very down to earth. The first reading (Amos 8.4-7) is all about a corrupt economy. Some would say that all economies are at risk of corruption because exploitation can play such a role in financial success. But that contention is not the point of this reading. Rather we learn here that no corruption will be overlooked. The Lord tells us: 'Never will I forget a single thing you have done!'
The Gospel reading (Lk 16.1-13) is a tale of rogues. The steward is a crafty rogue. He has been found out so he goes and falsifies the debts of all who owe his master rental income, usually paid in goods they have produced. This, he hopes, secures him future friends, but it also involves them all in his wrong doing. Even the rich man is a rogue as he praises the steward for his underhand cleverness.
This is the world in which we live. This is the world in which we have to keep our focus. St Paul (1 Tim 2.1-8) puts it simply: 'I want men to lift up their hands reverently in prayer, with no anger or argument.'
I thank you all for your presence here. I thank you all for the contributions you make to our society and to the well-being we seek. I thank all the chaplains here, and those not able to join us. Theirs is the work of making sure that we do indeed keep our hands, and our hearts, raised in prayer. That will help to keep us all out of mischief!
There are three things I would like to touch on this evening.
The first is our duty to look out for and accompany each other, especially those who have come here without much of their customary support.
At the World Youth Day events in Poland Pope Francis spoke about the importance of 'closeness' as the key to all pastoral work. He said it is impossible for a priest's pastoral ministry to be conducted at a distance from the people entrusted to his care. He has to be with them, close to them, especially in their moments of stress and distress. So I am grateful to all the chaplains today and encourage them in this pastoral closeness.
Of course, this duty, this opportunity, is not limited to the priests and deacons and sisters. It falls to us all. Be close to one another. See in one another brothers and sisters in the Lord and be ready to carry each other, even as the Lord always carries us. And this closeness needs to be extended especially to those who newly arrive in this land. Be attentive to them. Draw them in. Get beyond any arguments or divisions within your communities by looking outward at those who truly need your loving attention. Care for them rather than for your own narrower preoccupations. Then we are close to the Lord.
Secondly I want to say today, to all who will listen, that there is no place in our society for hatred or violence against people because of their nationality or race. So today we extend our prayers especially to the Polish community, remembering the killing of one of their number in Harlow some weeks ago, and the violent attacks which followed. We all reject these actions and these sentiments against whomever they are aimed. They disfigure our society. They have no place here. They have no place in immigrant communities. But I must also say how reassuring it was to hear that, in the aftermath of these and similar attacks, there were so many messages of support and actions of solidarity. That is right. That is our way. We will not simply condemn, but, more importantly, build anew the welcome and the confidence that we have for and in each other.
Then the third thing I want to say is this. Please be constantly on the lookout for those who are brought to this country in the many forms of modern slavery. That is happening in our midst: to people from Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, countries of Africa and many others. The movement of people around the world leaves so very many vulnerable to unscrupulous traffickers. Be observant. Listen out. Try and make contact. Learn how best to respond. The chaplains are receiving guidance in these matters. Let's work together to beat these evil trades in human beings.
Finally, we pray today for the success of tomorrow's UN Summit on the challenge of worldwide migration. International cooperation is badly needed, in the registration, welcome and movement of so many people driven from their homes by violence, destitution or hopelessness. We pray that this cooperation will emerge so that governments, including our own, will be more able to utilise the wellspring of generosity that is to be found in the hearts of so many people who are willing to help. Only by working together can this drama of our age be tackled.
Yesterday I came across an ancient Celtic poem, which expresses so much, so succinctly. Here it is:
I saw a stranger yestreen
I put food in the eating place
Drink in the drinking place
Music in the listening place.
And in the sacred name of the Triune
He blessed me and my house,
My cattle and my dear ones.
And the lark said in her song:
Often, often, often
Goes the Christ in the stranger's guise.
May God bless you all.