The Third Sunday of Advent

“We need to go back to the time of the Apostles: they faced a pre-Christian world, and we are fac-ing a largely post-Christian world. When Paul wants to summarise the essence of the Christian message in one sentence, he does not say, “I proclaim this or that doctrine to you.” He says, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23), and “We preach . . . Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corin-thians 4:5). This is the real ‘articulus stantis et cadentis Ecclesiae’, the article by which the Church stands or falls.

Unity is not a simple matter. One has to start with the big Churches, those that are well structured, putting together that which unites them, which is vastly more important than what divides them; not imposing uniformity but aim-ing at what pope Francis calls “reconciled diversities”. Nothing is more important than to fulfil Christ’s heart de-sire for unity expressed in today’s gospel. In many parts of the world people are killed and churches burned not be-cause they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostals, but because they are Christians. In their eyes we are already one! Let us be one also in our eyes and in the eyes of God.”

This is part of a sermon preached at Westminster Abbey at the Inauguration of the Tenth General Synod of the Church of England (24th November) by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor, Preacher to the Papal Household. Just the thought of this situation made me smile. A Roman Catholic preaching again in Westminster Abbey – I was told he was the first Roman Catholic to do so since the English Reformation – to the Church of England at the begin-ning of their General Synod. The religious landscape and interactions have certainly changed in my lifetime alone!

We can’t erase the history of division. We shouldn’t. I presume you’re thinking about denomina-tions here but I could be talking about pretty much any human situation. No matter the raison d’être for groups, alliances, communities, trades, professions, a particular world view (religious, political, social, economic, artistic, and so on) there is inevitably division – a them and us developing. While division is actually important for growth, we have demonstrated that difference is often to be viewed critically – and opposed and even eliminated. The century and a half after the Reformation is not particularly known for its irenic quality! The Puritans sought a new world. Methodism arose from Anglicanism. Pentecostalism arose because everyone was rather ‘dead’! And so on.

So I read Cantalamessa’s sermon with interest. I didn’t agree with – high five – everything he said. Some of it was to do with expression – I wouldn’t have said it that way but I was in agreement with the point he was making. Other parts were more nuanced where I thought it was an emphasis ‘too far’ or ‘not far enough’ or I would have to think more about it (unpack and understand the words) or simply ‘no, I don’t agree’. But that it was based on Scripture, conveyed Jesus, and spoke to people today (basic goals of a sermon) was certainly strongly evident. That he is baptised is also some-thing I should not ignore. For this makes us related! And if sections of my wider family are talking together, perhaps I, too, should be listening.

Ok, that’s not exactly easy as there is a lot of talking going on! But whether it is church bodies talk-ing across tables or neighbours over a cup of tea (or other beverage!) this is something that we should be doing – and saying the same things! Talking and listening. Listening and talking. We are bound by truth – as we understand it in the Bible – as we meet and encounter Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We are also bound by love. This doesn’t negate truth but guides us in our behaviour in the name of Truth. By the way, this is how we are to live with everyone – no matter who or what they believe. It is just that at the moment there seems to be an increasing awareness that those who also say ‘Jesus is Lord’ may not be as far apart as previously thought. There is only one, holy, catholic, apostolic church – that is what we believe. What we see is very different! I can’t imagine that there will ever be one church organisation in this world. But that Christians can find ways of ‘being family’ in a particular time and place is something our Baptism points to – as it has always done. Truth and Love. That has always been a courageous way to live … especially under the cross.  — GS