Homily of Fr Richard Yeo

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Homily of Fr Richard Yeo, Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation
at Fort Augustus on Sunday 18 August, 20th Sunday of the Year.

Today’s Scripture readings are a bit odd.  In particular, in the Gospel, Jesus is talking about his role, and they are disturbing words: he says that he brings dissention, not peace.  I shall come back to those words in a few moments.

You know why I am here.  I am the Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation, and I am as sad and shocked as you to hear about allegations against monks of Fort Augustus.

“Allegations” is a very formal word: it is a story of monks being accused of hurting some of the children entrusted to care, and hurting then in a most cruel way.

Abuse is a great evil, and its effects on those who are abused are profound & long-lasting.  We all know that.  But sometimes we forget that the evil affects many people, and its reverberations are widespread.  The damage to the immediate victim springs to mind first of all.  But abuse also affects a victim’s family.  It affects the community in which he lives.

The abuser himself is degraded as a human being, and his family and friends will be affected.  They will feel shame and betrayal.  The same sense of betrayal will affect the community in which he lives, and you are that community; that is why I have come to say to you that I am so sorry about the sadness and the shock that you will be feeling.

I have come to say this to you during the celebration of Holy Mass, and I am grateful to Bishop Hugh and to your parish priest, Father John, for allowing me to come here to celebrate this Mass with you.  During this Mass, as I said, we have heard some disturbing words of Jesus.  What do we make of them, especially because they seem so much at variance with so many other things that Jesus says?  On the one hand, we call Jesus the “prince of peace” – yet here he says most emphatically that he has not come to bring peace!

I think we have to see this Gospel passage in the light of Jesus’s tussle with the Pharisees, and the official Jewish establishment, the priests.  They didn’t like Jesus’s message because it disturbed the peace.  It was upsetting, revolutionary even.  They wanted a quiet life, and he was upsetting that.

Jesus is saying that he very definitely did not come to bring a quiet life: he didn’t come to bring that sort of peace.  He knew that the message he came to preach was going to rustle feathers, to upset powerful people, to challenge people.

And I find that challenging today, as stand before you to say sorry on behalf of monks of Fort Augustus for what some of their brothers are said to have done; and for the way in which they have let you down.

I wonder if the words of Gospel don’t challenge me, as I look at the mess that seems to have been brought about here at Fort Augustus.  Our monks have been hugely privileged in past; they have been respected, both inside the Church and outside it.  I wonder if we might have grown a bit arrogant?  If that is the case, then we couldn’t be really faithful servants of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served.

Every time we hear the words of the Gospel, we have to listen to what Good News Jesus is trying to say to us.  And I wonder what he is saying to me.  I think he is saying, use this shocking situation to become more humble, because then you will become better able to serve the people of God in the future.

I want to say a word also to those who may have worked at Abbey when monks were there, and to those who may have worked in the school.  Don’t think what you did was wasted, or unappreciated.  Many former students have said – some have said this to me – how much they valued their experience at Fort Augustus — it was not all bad.  And if you worked in school, you will have contributed to that good experience.  Thank you for that.

Once again, I want to say to you that I am sorry for the shame and upset you have suffered.  You may say: who am I to say this?  I was never a monk at Fort Augustus; I first visited here after the school closed.  But as the monastery has closed, there is no one else to say it if I don’t, and I hope that in due course some of the people who have been hurt at Fort Augustus may wish to speak to me, and I may be able to say a word of sorrow to them too.