The Easter Sunday sermon preached by Cardianl O'Brien at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, with a focus on the Trident nuclear weapon system.
FEAST OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD
HOMILY PREACHED BY CARDINAL KEITH PATRICK O’BRIEN
SUNDAY 16 APRIL 2006
ST MARY’S CATHEDRAL, EDINBURGH
My dear people, the beautiful song of proclamation, the Exsultet, which is sung only on this Easter Night (Day), declares our Easter faith wonderfully. The heavens are told to rejoice and sing, and all creation is told to exult around the throne of God, because Jesus Christ our King is risen. The whole song is a declaration of the love of God, and we see that love as clearly as we see the flame of the Easter candle. Whenever we light that candle we recall the love of God, and recalling the love of God we see ever more clearly that this love calls us to action.
Demands of Faith – People of Action:
Our Easter faith is not to be kept to ourselves. If the first witnesses to the resurrection kept it to themselves then we would not know of it. No, far from keeping it to themselves they proclaimed it every bit as fully as our Easter song of Exsultet proclaims it, and we, today and each day of Easter, and each day of our lives, must follow that example and speak of our faith, sharing it with others, allowing it to deepen and grow, allowing it to find expression in a parish community. These are to be communities of faith and love – communities which support us and in which we support others. We must also learn from those of other denominations and other faiths what it really means to live in this 21st century as men and women of faith.
Much is demanded of us in the name of faith. We must be people of prayer, both liturgical prayer when we pray the mass, and personal prayer, when we find some quiet moments in our day to be still, to listen to the voice of God, to ask for the things we need for ourselves and others.
But alongside being people of prayer we must be people of action, people who put our faith into action. In these days there is perhaps more need for action than ever before, and tonight (today), in “the power of this holy night” as the Exsultet so wonderfully puts it, I wish to speak of ways we can all be people of action.
Many things are common in the accounts of the resurrection appearances of Jesus in the different gospels. Meeting the risen Jesus, for example, usually leads to some action. When Mary recognises Jesus in the garden she runs back to the others to tell them. The disciples in Emmaus also leap into action when they recognise Jesus, and even though it is dark they run all the way back to Jerusalem, excited beyond words. At the Sea of Galilee Peter jumps from his boat and makes straight for the shore when he recognises Jesus. So action is an Easter reality.
Promise of Peace:
Another Easter reality is the promise of peace which accompanies so many resurrection appearances. When Jesus meets the frightened disciples his first resurrection words are ‘peace be with you’. He is saying that fear and anxiety can be overcome, and they can be overcome by peace.
The work of the resurrection is somehow to be action, and it is to be peace. Action for peace.
People of Action and People of Peace today:
Last week the Bishops of Scotland reflected precisely on this matter – how we can be people of action and people of peace, and how we can encourage the people of Scotland in this. We were responding to the invitation from the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence to engage in a public debate on the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapon system, which has been at the centre of British nuclear defence and the British nuclear deterrence for the last 12 years.
Consistent teaching of the Church on War, especially nuclear war:
We welcome the invitation for public debate on this most vital issue at the heart of the pro-life tradition of the Church because it allows us to restate, clearly and unequivocally, the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church.
Nuclear weapons have an awesome power for destruction. The use of even one nuclear weapon would mean the death of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people, and we already have hundreds of such weapons, capable of total destruction of our planet many times over. Vatican Council II, in the document Gaudium et Spes, warned that the use of such weapons must never be contemplated: "every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man himself, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation".
The Catechism of the Catholic Church repeats these words. Pope John Paul II described that Catechism as the “statement of the Church’s faith” so we should be in no doubt about this issue being an issue of faith. John Paul was a wonderful champion for peace and an end to violence, war and weapons. During his visit to these shores in 1982, he pleaded for peace at Coventry: “Today, the scale and the horror of modern warfare - whether nuclear or not - makes it totally unacceptable as a means of settling differences between nations. War should belong to the tragic past, to history; it should find no place on humanity's agenda for the future”.
His successor Pope Benedict XVI has already made clear his own unequivocal call for Britain and all other nuclear powers to give up these weapons of war. Let me quote something from that wonderful message:
“What can be said about those governments which count on nuclear arms as a means of ensuring the security of their countries? …this point of view is not only baneful but also completely fallacious. In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims. The truth of peace requires that all… agree to change their course by clear and firm decisions, and strive for a progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament. The resources which would be saved could then be employed in projects of development capable of benefiting all their people, especially the poor.”
A particular Scottish response:
We here in Britain are in a marvellous position to take concrete steps towards making real this demand from the Holy Father. And we here in Scotland have a duty to lead the way in campaigning for change, because we have the shameful task of housing these horrific weapons.
With the Trident nuclear weapon system fast becoming obsolete, and the debate concerning its replacement promised by our government, now is the time for all men and women of Easter faith, men and women of good will, men and women of peace, to raise our voices. Enter this debate and demand that these weapons of mass destruction be replaced, but not with more weapons. Rather, replace Trident, as the Holy Father has said, with projects that bring life to the poor.
I know first hand what the peaceful diversion of the vast sums of money in our military budget could accomplish. Earlier this year I was in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan. I will never forget the ramshackle homes in the vast Internally Displaced Peoples’ camps in the desert – nor people like William, Magdalena and their children, Mary, Daniel and Marco, eking out an existence in their ramshackle home on less than £1.50 per day.
Two years ago, on the 10th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, I was again in Africa and saw for myself what even small sums of money can achieve in healing, in reconciliation, in building a future of hope. Homes and hearts were being restored and help was being given to men like Father Alphonsus who pointed to a pile of skulls in a genocide site in a bombed out church, indicating that the remains of his father, mother and five of his family could be there.
We help such people through our giving – but how much more help could there be if only a fraction spent on nuclear weapons could be saved. To replace the Trident Nuclear System is estimated to cost £20 billion pounds and the running and maintenance cost is estimated to be around the same. Yes – what help could be given at home by way of healthcare, schools, hospitals and the basic necessities for those who are in need if we had that money at our disposal. And the sum is more than the much advertised amount of debt relief announced at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles last year. Britain alone will be spending more on nuclear arms than what 18 of the world’s poorest countries are getting together in debt cancellation.
Replacing Trident in this way is the only moral option, the only way to show we really are serious about our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to which we are a signatory. As long ago as 1968 our government undertook the following: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”.
Let us now, nearly forty years on from making this undertaking, finally prove that we take our obligation seriously. If not, if by replacing Trident with an even more destructive weapons system we would show our utter contempt for this Treaty and we would be in clear breach of it. We would lose any moral authority we currently have to tell other nations they may not possess weapons of mass destruction. Why should Iran or Korea or any other nation pay attention to us? Our moral authority on this matter would be zero.
A particular Scottish response was given in 1982 in a widely endorsed statement when the Bishops then said: “We are convinced that if it is immoral to use these weapons, it is also immoral to threaten their use”. We must ask ourselves can we be any the less outspoken as we prepare to commemorate the 25th anniversary of that statement?
Education on the situation:
Following the statement last week, Tuesday 11 April 2006, from the Bishops of Scotland I have instructed the Justice & Peace office here in our Archdiocese to prepare a programme of education and action which will help the faithful of this Archdiocese to play their part fully in this debate. Our own Archdiocesan programme will begin in May of this year. It is our opportunity to exercise our Easter faith, which, as we have already seen, is based on action, and which leads to peace. There will be materials for prayer, for discussion and reflection – and an indication of matters to be raised with our politicians. I strongly encourage as many people as possible to attend one of the study days to be provided, and to bring this vital issue into the life and prayer of our parishes, as well as to individuals and into our Catholic homes. For those who have never contacted an MP before now is the time to do so. It is a matter of faith, but it requires a political solution, and we must act.
If I may return finally to that great Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet, we are reminded there that: “The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy; it casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride”
What a marvellous prayer to begin this great season of Easter. May our prayer become a reality in the eventual scrapping of Trident, using those resources for life instead of death, peace instead of hatred. May God bless you all at this Easter; may we indeed be people of peace.