SOMETIMES AT CLERGY DEANERY MEETINGS priests are apt to complain about second collections, arguing that people complain to them about them, that there are too many of them, and so on. As it happens people don’t complain here about them, at least not to me; in Beckenham you give very generously in second collections, even when emergency appeals happen at short notice. The causes which the second collections support are good and important, and what you give is appreciated. I think that sometimes people moan about these things in some parishes because the clergy don’t bother to explain the importance and value of second collections.
Second collections also convey a message about the life of the Church, and that is particularly important this weekend. For we mark the weekend of the feast of Ss Peter and Paul (or nearest it) with the annual collection known in this country as Peter’s Pence. This is a worldwide levy aimed at supporting the ministry of the Pope and the Holy See throughout the world, particularly in charitable work. It enables us to ‘put our money where our mouth is’ and show our commitment as Roman Catholics by contributing directly to the Holy Father’s ministry.
People in England should be particularly supportive of Peter’s Pence because historical evidence suggests that it started here in Anglo- Saxon England. It is possible that it began in the eighth century, but certainly by the time of King Cnut at the beginning of the eleventh – and it spread gradually to Ireland and the rest of Europe.
As we consider the rather dire prospects for the future of our country, we should reflect that Peter’s Pence was in a sense one of the first Europe wide taxes, and this meant it had to go when King Henry VIII took over the Church in this country. Peter’s Pence was abolished by law in 1534, although it seems to have been revived for a short time under Queen Mary, at least in some places, only to be scrapped again by Queen Elizabeth. In penal times Catholics, often among the poorest in society, nevertheless tried to carry on giving money to support the pope.
Today’s feast is partly about asserting that the pope is the Head of the Church on earth and the Vicar of Jesus Christ. For Catholics, what-ever our background, this assertion creates, or ought to create, a sense of personal loyalty. The personal commission which Our Lord gave to St Peter when he told him ‘on this rock I will build my church’ is handed on to his successors, in spite of the unworthiness which some have shown in history. You may feel a particular sense of warmth towards different popes in your lifetime or in history – but we also owe a personal loyalty to Pope Francis because he is the pope whom the Holy Spirit has given to the Church at this point in our history. That is what Peter’s Pence is about.
Non-Catholics often find this hard to understand. With the best will in the world, our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion, in the Free Churches, and even in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, do not really look on their leaders in the same way. What makes us different is not subservience: it’s a gift from God to his Church, to build up the Body of Christ in unity. Pope Francis also needs this loyalty from us. There are serious challenges facing the Church; and more-over he has the task of constantly challenging people with the beauty of Christian teaching – this often makes enemies.
One issue about which the Holy Father has constantly challenged political leaders and all of us is the treatment of refugees and migrants: the picture in the Newsletter (click here to view) shows him celebrating Mass on the island of Lampedusa when he went there early in his pontificate to show solidarity with refugees and make reparation for the deaths of those trying to get to Europe. He is the conscience of the world – if we’re proper Christians we respond to the needs of refugees with kindness and love, not meanness or hatred. It’s not just an issue for him, how-ever: it affects all of us as well. For example, it has come to light that Bromley Council has reneged on a commitment they had made to take unaccompanied refugee children (technically known as UASCs, ‘unaccompanied asylum-seeking children’) by surreptitiously pulling out of an agreement made by all London councils to take care of a small number of such children (in Bromley it would be about fifty). This is a shameful decision and totally at odds with the message of Pope Francis and our Church. There is an online petition – click here to view/sign – or you can write to your councillor or the Leader of the Council. Along with giving generously to Peter’s Pence, doing something about this both shows love to children who are in need and loyalty to Pope Francis.