Saint George, or rather his feast day, has come a long way in the last few decades. In 1961, the Church demoted his feast to an optional memoria, because scholars didn’t know much about him, and yet today we observe his feast with the rank of a solemnity. And, if you happen to vote for the Labour Party in the upcoming General Election, Jeremy Corbin has promised to give us a Bank Holiday in honour of the Patron Saint of England.
And yet, we still know little to nothing about Saint George. Legend tells us he was a high-ranking soldier in the army of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. When it was discovered George was a secret Christian, and after refusing to offer incense to pagan gods, he was brutally tortured and killed, possibly by decapitation. The exceptional nature of his torments led Eastern Christians to call him the Megalo-martyr – the great martyr.
More than seventeen centuries after Saint George’s death, we are not asked to offer incense to pagan gods or to the effigy of an emperor. We face perhaps a more insidiously harmful trend which is ordered to the obliteration of Christian faith: modernism or relativism, the denial of absolute truth with particular reference to religious truth. We may be permitted to teach what Christians believe, but increasingly we are pressured not to teach that belief as something that is true. Rather it is to be seen as one of a range of possible beliefs, as one might choose from a menu in a restaurant.
Last week we witnessed Our Lord’s dialogue with the representative of another Roman Emperor. Pontius Pilate asked Our Lord if he was a king, to which Our Lord replied that he came into the world to bear testimony to the truth. Pilate’s dismissive answer is worthy of the militant secularists of our own time: “truth, what is truth?”
A common theme for reflection on the feast days of martyrs is to say that we may not face torture and death for being a Christian, at least not in our country, but we do face suffering for Christ.
One of the key lessons we learn on today’s feast is the importance of truth: the truth of Jesus Christ, and the truth of the faith taught by the Catholic Church. Each of us needs to be convinced of this to the point that it changes our life, indeed to the point that it is ultimately the only really important thing in our lives. When we try to live good lives, when we try to be good priests or religious, when we try to take care of our families and those we love, it is this one thing that is necessary: that we have a living and active faith in Christ as the one who truly is the eternal Word made flesh, who truly suffered and died on the Cross, who truly rose from the dead, and is truly present in this Holy Mass today as our sacrament and sacrifice.
The daily spiritual battle is where each of us will live or die in terms of the life of our soul. Let us ask Saint George, the great martyr, and the patron of our country, to assist us in this battle in which he emerged victorious.
Saint George, pray for us.