by Marjorie George
Among the poignant stories to come out of World War II is the account of Coventry Cathedral. The town of Coventry, England, along with its cathedral, was bombed by the German Luftwaffe on November 14, 1940. The cathedral had dated from 1043 and was originally St. Mary’s Priory and Cathedral. That building fell into ruins and a second church arose on the site – St. Michael’s — constructed between the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. This was the building that was destroyed in 1940.
Shortly after the bombing, a cathedral worker found that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He tied them together and placed them in the rubble on the altar; in the dust on the wall behind the altar, the cathedral provost had inscribed the words, “Father, forgive.”
The day after the bombing, the decision was made to rebuild the cathedral at the end of the war — not as an act of defiance but as a sign of faith, hope, and trust for the future of the world. From that faithful decision, the people of Coventry Cathedral developed a significant ministry of global reconciliation, involving them in some of the world’s most difficult and longstanding areas of conflict.
(Photo at left, Winston Churchill visiting the bombed cathedral in 1940. Photo in public domain.)
It’s a compelling story. Sometime after learning it, I came across a modest poster done in calligraphy at a local arts and crafts fair. The margins of the poster were sparsely decorated with images of charred crosses, tongues of fire, and the depiction of an old altar. But it was the words that stared at me and I at them: the words were a series of petitions, each ending with the plea, “Father, forgive.”:
“For the hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class, Father, forgive.
“For the covetous desires of men and nations to possess what is not their own, Father, forgive.
“For our envy of the welfare and happiness of others, Father, forgive.”
And so on. (Read the entire poster at the end of this article.)
The poster has hung on the wall in my home office for many years. But it wasn’t until last week, as I walked by that wall and stopped to let the counsel of those words sink in again, that I realized these words are a reference to the seven deadly sins. Among the petitions, this stood out: “For the lust which uses for ignoble means the bodies of men and women, Father forgive.”
Of all the Seven Deadlies, lust is probably the sin from which we feel most insulated; perhaps because, unlike the other sins that tempt us with their slow, unacknowledged escalation, lust is a conscious decision. A one-night stand, so to speak. Perhaps because what used to earn the label of lust, today is just liberation (from parents, from tradition, from unreasonable restrictions, from stuffy old religion). Who among us Christians would use the “bodies of men and women for ignoble means”?
Now, we might use our position and authority to impose our agenda on others with little regard for how they are affected, but we call that good leadership. And we might allow our passion for clothes, shoes, or the latest decor to lead us to unwise spending, but we call that (at least in my house) retail therapy. Or we might scramble to gather resources of money, time, and talent for our particular cause in competition with others, but we call that doing ministry.
Synonyms for the word ignoble are dishonorable, shameful, immoral, base, low. When we act in any of these ways, when we allow our passionate desires to run roughshod over others, when we please ourselves at the expense of others or against the highest calling in each of us, we are practicing lust.
The people of Coventry in 1940 responded to evil not with retribution but with faith, hope, and trust in the future. By so doing, they took part in Christ’s redemption of a fallen world. They acknowledged the only response to sin that any of us can ever offer: “Father, forgive.”
Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at Marjorie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Coventry Cathedral, visit http://www.coventrycathedral.org.uk/
– For the hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class, Father, forgive.
– For the covetous desires of men and nations to possess what is not their own, Father, forgive.
– For our envy of the welfare and happiness of others, Father, forgive.
– For the lust which uses for ignoble means the bodies of men and women, Father, forgive.
– For the greed which exploits the labours of men and lays waste the earth, Father, forgive.
– For our indifference to the plight of the homeless and the refugee, Father, forgive.
– For the pride which leads us to trust ourselves and not in God, Father, forgive.