The Prime Minister’s announcement, on Easter Tuesday, that she would seek a General Election on 8 June was that very rare thing – a well-kept secret in politics. So it is that, a little shy of a year since the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, we go to the polls once again. It was Evelyn Waugh who observed that he did not vote in parliamentary elections, as he did not consider it his place to advise the Sovereign as to who should be invited to form a Government. But here we are, being asked once again to exercise our right to participate in the pursuit of democracy, the worst form of Government (in Churchill’s well-known phrase), except for all the others.
Tony Blair’s spin doctor Alastair Campbell famously opined that the then PM did not ‘do God.’ In Mrs May, we have a Prime Minister who is not afraid to speak of the importance of Christian values in the life of the four nations which make up the United Kingdom. This is unsurprising, as she is the daughter of a priest – a priest trained at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield to boot. She is also a regular communicant at her local parish church, in her constituency in Maidenhead.
In her Easter message, Mrs May invited us to be confident about the role which Christianity plays in the lives of the people of this country. She identified Christian values with reference to three terms: compassion, community, and citizenship. Christians of all party political allegiance can only be glad that so senior a public figure as the Prime Minister should feel confident enough to make so bold and clear a reference to the place of the Christian faith in our national life. None of Mrs May’s three terms could be doubted or disparaged by any Christian.
Yet if only she felt able to go a little further. Compassion – suffering with – is not just about the exercise of sympathy towards one’s fellow men and women: it is the means by which God in Christ chooses to save the world. Community bears weight in so far as it relates to the perfect community of love which is God the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Citizenship is interrogated, defined and illuminated by the vocation to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, a citizen in, but not of, this passing world. To put all of this more bluntly: Christian values are about… Christ. Not about nebulous concepts to which anyone of reasonably good will can sign their name; but about Christ, in whom (we believe) is life, life in all its fullness.
The Easter mystery teaches us that salvation can never be about our own personal, social, or political programmes, however well-intentioned. Salvation is about the breaking in of God’s free, sovereign, unmerited and bewildering grace: it is about stooping down with the Beloved Disciple and finding that the tomb is empty. It is about Jesus Christ. It is more than we could ever expect that a politician, any politician, should say that nowadays – at least say it on the record and with an election campaign in full spate. But it is the Church’s job to say it, and to go on saying that without Christ at the centre ‘Christian values’ will soon crumble and become a dead letter. A General Election in the Octave of Pentecost offers us a good opportunity to pray for the gift of wisdom for all in public life; and to pray too that the Spirit will give us the strength and the courage to proclaim Christ, crucifed and risen, the way, the truth and the life.
In what can seem like an ecumenical winter, or at least a chilly autumn, it is a reason for great joy that the preacher to the Papal Household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa OFM Cap., is to give the sermon at this year’s National Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham on 29 May. Mary is the Mother of All Christians; she can justly be called the Mother of Christian Unity. Let us all, in this, Our Lady’s month of May, ask her prayers most fervently for the unity of all her children. We pray too that, in some small and hidden way, the National Pilgrimage to England’s Nazareth may foster the accomplishment of Our Lord’s own prayer for his disciples, ‘that they may all be one.’