Sunday, 23 April 2006

By George, let's celebrate!

England - and especially cities like London - is becoming increasingly multi-cultural. Most of my parishioners come from Irish, African, West Indian or Brazilian backgrounds. Is it not appropriate, then, that our patron saint comes from a country far away?

St George, a soldier who was martyred in Palestine at the beginning of the fourth century, has been venerated as our patron since the fourteenth century. Over the centuries, he quickly overtook the other medieval patron saints of England: Our Blessed Lady, St Peter, Prince of the Apostles and St Edward the Confessor. In the twenty-first century, if he is remembered at all, it is as a national symbol of beer-swigging, beef-eating ‘merry England’ rather than an early Christian martyr that he is celebrated.

Today is his feast, although it is transferred to tomorrow since it falls during the Easter Octave. Liturgically, it is one of the very special days that we keep as a Solemnity. Yet, unlike other countries, the feast of our patron saint is not a national holiday. This is partly because of the lack of self-confidence the English have in their identity, especially in these post-imperial days, but also because there is a certain embarrassment about St George. After all, he has very little to do with England – it is possible that he had never even heard of this land – and we know very little about him. At least the Irish, in venerating St Patrick, pray to a saint who knew the emerald isle intimately. They can visit his haunts and read his writings. This is not possible with St George.

Nevertheless, you can sign a petition to make St George's Day a national holiday. This is courtesy of Wells Bombardier beer - worth signing despite its non-religious motivation! Over 100,000 have done so already.

The most important thing about the saints is not the details of their lives - though these can edify and inspire us – but the power of their intercession in Heaven. The one thing we know for certain about St George is that he was a soldier who died for his Faith (the reason why he was so popular with the Crusaders) – this alone makes us confident that he will hear our prayers.

Through his strong faith and by winning the martyr’s crown, St George overcame evil and thus defeated the metaphorical dragon. We ask him today for his protection and his prayers – for each one of us who lives in this fair land (no matter where our origins may be); for the Church; for the Government; and for Her Majesty the Queen, who has just celebrated her 80th birthday.

St George, pray for us and pray for England.


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