Joint Principal Patron of the Diocese of Portsmouth
[Gospel: John 21:15-17] This passage from Saint John’s Gospel has traditionally been understood as Our Lord’s commission to Saint Peter, charging him with the responsibility of shepherding and protecting the Church. We pray in a special way today for our Holy Father Pope Francis I who continues that particular task as the successor of Saint Peter. We also pray for our Bishop Philip Egan and for all the bishops of the Church as successors of the Apostles. And yet you and I, each in our own way, share in that same responsibility to shepherd and protect.
We are shepherds when we pass on to others a desire to know God, by encouraging a sense of wonder and awe that comes naturally to those who seek God.
We are shepherds when we bring to those daily tasks the values we have cherished for centuries as Christians: a sense of the dignity of work itself; a deep and abiding respect for the dignity and rights of each individual; and a clear sense of what is right and what is wrong.
By the dignity and wisdom gained through experience from those of us who have grey hairs on our heads there come signs of God’s abiding and steadfast love. Our elders shepherd us with their clear sense of the enduring values of love, patience and of lives well lived.
And so today as we remember and pray for all the shepherds of the Church let us consider that we all share a common call and let us pray for the strength and the grace to be always true to that call.
In our vocation to be shepherds we take as our witness and example those who have gone before us. We can learn from those whom God has called to leadership in the Church.
In particular today, we remember one of our local saints: Saint Edmund of Abingdon who was born just up the road in Berkshire. After being ordained a priest and then teaching theology for eight years he was appointed a canon of Salisbury Cathedral in 1222.
He was such a popular preacher and pastor that he was chosen to be Archbishop of Canterbury. He became an adviser to King Henry III for whom he undertook several diplomatic missions; and in 1237 he presided at the King’s ratification of the Great Charter.
To assist him the archbishop chose as his chancellor Richard Wych, known better to us as Saint Richard of Chichester.
Archbishop Edmund was all for good discipline, proper observance, and justice for those who abused their authority and power; and this brought him into conflict with the king over discrepancies between church law and common law.
After numerous threats and attempts on his life, the Archbishop was forced to leave England and he retired quietly to the Cistercian abbey at Pontigny in France where he died on 16th November 1240. He was canonized seven years later by Pope Innocent IV.
Saint Edmund was a good, if not a great bishop. He taught the truth and defended the rights of the Church in England from abuse by the civil authority. His last words were addressed to God: ‘I have sought nothing else but you.’
Very little of his writing has survived, but his book Mirror of Holy Church entitles him to an honourable place among the English medieval mystics.
The Church in England honours Saint Edmund as a pastor worthy of imitation, and the Diocese of Portsmouth adopted him as the Joint Principal Patron of the Diocese.
Saint Edmund of Abingdon, pray for us.