[What follows is purely personal and does not necessarily reflect the views of my Benedictine brethren.]
The name was crucial. St Luke’s gospel makes that clear. The expectation was that the son born of the aged Elizabeth and Zechariah would be named after his father, or at least a close kinsman. Yet the decision was for John, a novel name in his family and one that clearly stupefied the family and friends who had gathered for the baby’s circumcision.
Why does St Luke labour this trivial point so? The name John in itself means nothing special per se. Its significance lies in its symbolism. That the baby would not take his father’s name is a sign that this boy would not follow in the footsteps of his father; he would not be a temple priest, but a prophet. His vocation would not be to serve the old covenant but to herald the New Covenant. He was to be a voice crying in the wilderness of Israel pointing to the Lamb of God, who will be a light not only for Israel, but to enlighten also the Gentiles. The novel name is a symbol that Israel is about to embark on a novel course, to become the new Israel, the Church, the Body of Christ.
That the baby is to be John not Zechariah is symbolic that John’s birth is the dawn of a new dispensation, a new Israel, and a new humanity. With St John’s birth, everything has changed.
Last night in Britain, and indeed for Europe, everything changed. But instead of a wider, global, catholic vision the English and Welsh have opted for an insular vision, an empty patriotism and the lifeless totem of independence. They have left a common enterprise erected to preserve peace and prosperity in Europe, citing rightly that it has lost its original spirit. So Britain has taken its ball and gone home.
What is remarkable is that the untruths, especially on the economy and immigration, have been so effectively peddled that those with the most to lose from Brexit, the poorer, are the one who have voted for it. Prices are set to rise, especially for staples as the agricultural sector will find it self without labour and without almost half its income. Petrol will rise again. Pensions are endangered. Many immigrants like me now feel, quite suddenly, that this is no longer home.
Just as remarkable is that so many people voted for an option for which no blueprint was offered, no clear path or plan of action. But of course, if the pundits are right and this is part of the global movement of the disenfranchised thumbing their noses at the out-of-touch elites—a movement that has seen the rise of the far right in Europe and Trump in America—then any plan of action or blueprint for the future was irrelevant. It was all about the gesture. Now to reap what they have sown.
In global terms, Brexit suits Putin’s Russia very much, as he works to fragment Europe and prevent what it considers its proper sphere of influence, which is growing increasingly westwards, from associating too closely with Europe. Putin is a bug winner today.
And Europe is the loser. A slim majority for remain would have been a loud and close shot across Brussels’ bow, enhancing the arguments for reform and perhaps even encouraging a return to the orignal vision for the EU held by its Catholic founders: a common trading zone producing such economic interdependence that for Europe to go to war again would be suicide for all its members. Brexit has emboldened those parties in Europe that want to abandon the project, most of which are right-wing, to push for referendums in their own nations. So we may be seeing the implosion of Europe about to begin, and a return to ethnic tribal loyalties as the overriding formator of social identity. And history shows us where that all too often leads.
In effect too, England and Wales have voted to end the United Kingdom. In opting for the surface glitz and empty heart of supposed self-determination over and against Europe, it is now impossible to argue against another referendum for Scottish independence. They voted overwhelmingly to remain, all 32 local areas voting that way, and now they can justly argue that they have no real voice in the UK and that they are now to be forced to endure exactly what such a clear majority of them did not want. The Northern Irish also voted to remain, and for them looms the prospect of the return of border posts, symbols of the Troubles which have only recently been put to bed and which may now be roused from their slumber. All those Irish who cross the border daily for work will have to arrive at a new modus vivendi, unless Ireland is reunited. The unionists will have none of that. The rest may be all too predictable. And this afternoon came news that the mayor of London will investigate if the metropolis can achieve some sort of independence for itself from England. This is probably as much a gesture as Brexit itself, but it does not bode well for national unity
Feeling just as disenfranchised will be the young. 73% of 18-24 year olds voted to remain, and over 60% of the next age group up voted to remain. Their future inheritance is now very much not one they want.
The whole Brexit campaign reminds me very much of the first Brexit, when Henry VIII pulled the nation from the Catholic Church in order to further his own patriotic dynastic ends. He too opined that as sovereign lord of a sovereign nation he should have to answer to a foreign authority, even a religious one. Soon just to be a Catholic priest was to be a traitor. It set the stage for the achievement of empire, a glorious prosperity in secular terms for Britain, a bitter trial for its subject nations. In religious terms it led to a ghetto national church that increasingly became subservient to the state, and by our day to the atheist secular hegemony. Britain prospered at the world’s expense, and it seems that the elites who really controlled the campaign to leave want to repeat this path, if they can.
However that prosperity may be some time coming. Economically we shall learn just how far from independent Britain is. No doubt something will be cobbled together in time, but at what cost and to whom in the meantime? The waving of flags will die down soon enough, and the reality will set in. The world will look at Britain in a very different light from now on, whatever the beholder’s opinion. Soon enough there might not be a Britain to behold.
Everything has changed. Whether for the better or the worse time will tell soon enough. Alas I expect it will not be for the better, at least for the foreseeable future. I am no be-leaver. But who cares about that now. We must bend the knee to a brave new England. How sad.