Sunday, January 20, 2013

'do whatever he tells you:' a meditation on Christian Unity

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

First of all, thanks to the Monsignor and to all of you for having me here this evening. I have to confess that this is not the first time I have been in your lovely church … I've been at a few of the school services here on previous occasions … but this will mark my first visit to what I might cautiously term a 'normal' congregation!

The theme of the Octave of Christian Unity this year is taken from the prophet Micah: what does God expect of us? I suppose you could say that that is a short question with a long answer … it must be a long answer, otherwise there would be no need for all these thick tomes written by learned men and women dealing with the various branches of theology and Church doctrine. But another way of looking at that is that the 'long answer' is simply the details, the working out the ways and means of complying with what surely be the 'short answer.' And that short answer is, I would suggest, living our lives in the way that God wants us to.

We get a hint of that short answer in today's Gospel reading. Our Blessed Lady, seeing that the wine has run short, tells the servants to 'do whatever he tells you.' I think those words of our Lady are just as applicable to us in every moment of our lives as they were to those servants that day in Cana. For we, of course, must also do whatever it is that Jesus tells us to do.

And when it comes to Christian Unity, we know exactly what it is that he tells usto do: as it says elsewhere in St John's Gospel, in Chapter 17, he tells us to be one just as he and the Father are one. And the sad truth is that we have not done what he tells us when it comes to that. Christ founded one Church; and those who call themselves Christian number around two billion; and that two billion is divided up into literally tens of thousands of denominations. An even sadder truth is that for many centuries many of these denominations were openly hostile to each other … they were a long way away from from those words of Jesus in John 13: 'By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.'

Now, thank God, we are doing a lot better in most places than we have over the last few hundred years … we certainly seem to be doing very well in Castlecomer at least … the great respect that the different faith traditions have for each other is clearly evident, and has been from the first moment I arrived in this parish. And yet, I don't think that what Christ meant when he said we should love one another and that we should be one was that we should all get along a lot better than we used to! It is of course a great start … more than a great start, a wonderful start … an essential step along the road to conforming ourselves to God's will on this matter … but it is still only a step … and many more need to be taken.

What might those steps be? I could not possibly say. I do know that we can not simply seek a false 'one-ness', one that pretends that all differences do not exist … that we will have to find agreement on all the essential theological points … and also that the important parts of doctrine are accepted by all … which might sound like an impossible task … 

but it is something that may not be as unreachable as it seems at first thought … While many believe that some form of corporate unity is impossible, I refuse to believe that God would tell us to do something that we are not capable of achieving. We are a people of hope ... and hope is to be found in the encouraging examples of true unity that do exist ... those Christian traditions where the essentials of the faith are agreed upon and the non-essentials are accepted and respected ... and such encouraging are to be found within both the Church of Ireland and the Catholic Church … 

the Church of Ireland because it is what is called a 'broad church', where what is done in one part of the island, or indeed even within the same diocese or city, may seem very different to what goes on in another … one may seem very 'Catholic' while another seems very 'Evangelical' while others are somewhere in between … yet all manage to rub along in union with one another, because they agree on core aspects of Church teaching … 

and in the Catholic Church, because within that there is not only the Roman Rite, to which most Catholics in Ireland belong, but there is also the various Byzantine Rites … and these Rites from the outside may seem very different from Roman Catholics … and yet they are in full communion with the See of Rome …

No doubt we have a long road to travel … but travel it we must, because it is what God expects of us … and if he expects it of us, and we are his faithful servants who are willing to conform ourselves to his will, then we need not doubt that he will also give us the Grace to do as he asks us to do … Grace that I pray that we will all be open to receiving, in the name of God Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sermon 2nd after Epiphany 2013; the week of prayer for Christian Unity

1 comment:

  1. In a Protestant context; there is a sort of unity that is not up to man.