Archbishop Cushley celebrated the annual Festival Mass at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh yesterday (Sunday 21 August).
Among the congregation were the city's Lord Provost, Robert Aldridge, and the Very Rev. Colin Sinclair, former Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
In his Homily, the Archbishop highlighted the inspirational foundations of the Festival and said: "It is successful, not only when there are great names performing and lots of things to see and to do, but when our great city promotes the dignity and worth of us all, from the greatest to the least."
Homily of Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews & Edinburgh, Festival Mass, St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Edinburgh , 21 August 2022
My dear friends,
A warm welcome to our Cathedral on the happy occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival
In your name, I’m very pleased to welcome for the first time Councillor Robert Aldridge, the Right Honourable Lord Lieutenant and Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh, a number of our city’s councillors, several distinguished representatives of the City’s Consular Corps, representatives of the Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta and of the Holy Sepulchre, the city’s High Constables, and other distinguished guests and friends.
In particular, I’d like to welcome my dear friend Very Rev. Colin Sinclair, former Moderator of the Church of Scotland. Thank you for honouring us with your presence today.
As many of you will know by now, the scripture readings that we have just heard are part of a cycle read everywhere in the Catholic Church throughout the world every day, and do not indicate a choice on my part to make some point about politics or diplomacy or the concert of nations.
They’re simply the next readings up for the prayerful consideration of those at Mass today throughout the world. But, as always, in their own curious, providential way, they do give us something to think about, if we let them. Every day’s a school day. So, what does Isaiah or Jesus of Nazareth have to say to us about the 75th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival?
In the Gospel we have just heard, Jesus is asked by a stranger “how many” people will be saved. In his reply, Jesus ignores the “how many” part of the question and instead replies with a look at the “how”.
So, how are people to be redeemed? Well, Jesus says, the best way to find redemption is by taking the “narrow path” and entering by the “narrow gate”. Whatever he meant, it doesn’t sound very easy or comfortable, because it makes all of us look at our lives and, if we’re honest, we easily find room for improvement. But it’s not a reply that lumps us all together.
Elsewhere, in St John, Jesus calls himself the Way and the Gate. But here, it seems that we are all going to have to find our own path, we’re all going to have find the narrow gate that applies to us. To every one of us, the greatest and the least. We are individuals, with the same dignity and worth, it is true, with similar possibilities, but we will also have to find our own path through life, to what makes us completely human, and in harmony with our maker.
In one of his excellent books on the scriptures, the late Rabbi Jonathan Sachs quotes an old Jewish proverb which talks of the Mint of God. Not the After Eight kind of mint, but the Royal Mint kind. Imagine that God had a mint like the Royal Mint. The Royal Mint produces coins that are absolutely identical to each other, in look, weight, feel, and value. That, of course, is the point of a mint.
Now, imagine that God had a mint for minting human beings in his image and likeness. We believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God; because we are like God, we have our dignity and worth; and that helps us to see why by extension human life is sacred. But when the divine Mint creates a human being, that person is unique.
Any coin of the realm can replace any other coin of the same denomination. But we who are minted in the divine Mint, in God’s image and likeness, with the same dignity and worth as Him and as each other, are utterly and completely unique. We are irreplaceable. There never was, and there never will be, another human being like you. We are made in the image and likeness of God, but we are also utterly unique.
And this is one reason why the celebration of the human person, the human spirit, in a festival such as ours in Edinburgh, born at it was in the face of war with Nazi Germany and the tyranny of states, is so important. From the greatest to the least, we all share this dignity; from the greatest to the least, we are all irreplaceable, utterly unique.
I was in Washington DC last week and a stranger, upon discovering I was from Edinburgh, started to talk to me enthusiastically about the Edinburgh International Festival.
It has gone from a modest idea proposed by the late Sir Rudolph Bing into a major contribution to the world of music, theatre and the arts. A Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, Bing wanted to create a celebration that was not only an antidote to the policies of extremist governments, but also one that would put the human person and the human spirit back at the centre of our world, our concerns and our efforts to better ourselves.
All of us, regardless of who or what we are, have imagination, we have spirit, we have a sense of right and wrong. And above all, each of us is utterly unique, and worthy of respect, in spite of our personal frailties and shortcomings. In its own way, the Edinburgh International Festival is an extension and a consequence of that. At its best, it aspires to be a festival of the dignity of the human person.
We’re entitled to take some civic pride in the Festival, but it is more significant than that because it started being about disarming the extremists and the nihilists; it was about putting the human person, the human spirit at the centre of what we do. It was about denying ground to the extremists who don’t believe in the dignity and worth of human beings.
It was to contradict the bien pensants, those who “know better” than the rest of us, those who don’t really believe in humanity’s worth. This is particularly important when we look back to the post-Nazi roots of this festival and forward to what is happening in places such as the Ukraine.
As we give thanks for the 75th anniversary of the Festival and for the way in which the city of Edinburgh has embraced the vision of Sir Rudolf Bing, we recall that the Festival is most successful when it is a celebration of the human person, and the human spirit; it is successful, not only when there are great names performing and lots of things to see and to do, but when our great city promotes the dignity and worth of us all, from the greatest to the least.
Have a happy Festival, and God bless you all!