On the eve of his death, Jesus prayed for the unity of those the Father gave him: “that they may all be one … so that the world may believe”. Joined to him, as a branch is to the vine, we share the same sap that circulates among us and vitalizes us.
Each tradition seeks to lead us to the heart of our faith: communion with God, through Christ, in the Spirit. The more we live this communion, the more we are connected to other Christians and to all of humanity. Paul warns us against an attitude that had already threatened the unity of the first Christians: absolutising one’s own tradition to the detriment of the unity of the body of Christ. Differences then become divisive instead of mutually enriching. Paul had a very broad vision: “All are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Cor 3:22-23).
Christ’s will commits us to a path of unity and reconciliation. It also commits us to unite our prayer to his: “that they may all be one. . .so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).
“Never resign yourself to the scandal of the separation of Christians who so readily profess love for their neighbour, and yet remain divided. Make the unity of the body of Christ your passionate concern.”
[The Rule of Taizé in French and English (2012) p. 13]
vivifying fire and gentle breath,
come and abide in us.
Renew in us the passion for unity
so that we may live in awareness of the bond that unites us in you.
May all who have put on Christ at their Baptism unite
and bear witness together to the hope that sustains them.
Are you resigned to the scandal of separation of Christians?
What part of your tradition is vital and life giving and what can you learn from what is vital and life giving within other Christian traditions?
What could be the impact on the world of greater unity between the churches?
L’Arche is a worldwide federation of people, with and without learning disabilities, working together for a world where all belong.
This photo was taken in Canterbury Cathedral when L’Arche Kent was celebrating 40 years of life, and L’Arche itself was marking its half century. Making enough space for everyone is vital and the process is on-going. A world where all belong is a challenge: L’Arche lives that challenge, and in doing so witnesses that it is possible.
To remain faithful to the mission the structures of each community, and the federations which link them, are reviewed regularly to give a new mandate for community life. Here are some points from L’Arche UK’s new mandate.
L’ARCHE UK MANDATE July 2019 – July 2025
Partners in Mission, building a more human society
1. Building unity around our Mission
The greatest insight that L’Arche has to offer arises from our emphasis on community and mutually transforming relationships. Therefore we will:
Create and celebrate new ways to live out our Mission in response to a 21st century call for L’Arche in the UK.
Partner other organisations to impact on the social and political concerns of wider society and be a beacon for the learning disability sector.
Deepen our connection to our founding Christian tradition and live out the spirituality of L’Arche more confidently. This spirituality embraces people of all faiths and none and all who are aligned with our Mission.
Vigorously pursue the four dimensions of community, spirituality, service and outreach through our service to society and through service provision.
2. Partners in the Mission
People with and without learning disabilities are together partners in the Mission. A vital
element in this partnership on the national level is the National Speaking Council. Therefore we will:
Strengthen the purpose and voice of the National Speaking Council with proper
Offer people with learning disabilities opportunities to impact more powerfully on our society through employment and quality day services.
Become experts in accessible communication, both locally within our communities and nationally.
Ensure that people with and without learning disabilities engage in outreach together.
3. Resourcing the Mission
We need to be well resourced for the journey. Therefore we will:
Agree and implement a model of effective governance that truly serves our Mission by ensuring business and financial viability.
Work towards greater Mission sustainability by increasing our fundraising capability and reviewing our financial management.
Develop our culture so that all our communities are competent and effective in the four dimensions.
The signs of the times cannot simply be material events or objective happenings. Such things, of themselves, do not indicate anything. They prompt a suspicion that things are brewing, it does not take very much to be aware of that. Sadly that is where most people stop. Whereas the real signs are human actions, human responses to challenges posed by these events. Only people can create realities pointing somewhere, through their words, gestures and actions. The “signs of the times” are these gestures which allow the Lord to be present. There will always be a connection between events and signs. St. Paul’s journeys depended on the existence of sea-routes, and the communications system established by the Roman Empire. But a study of these phenomena would not suffice to help us understand what was going on. Only people can be signs. Anthony in the Desert, Benedict, Francis, Gandhi, Martin Luther King… were all signs who were intimately involved with what was going on in their own world. Their sign value lay in the pathways they opened up for the Gospel life to move through them, relevantly, into the world.
If we are simply looking for new ways to win people to the church, all we need do is take note of modern resources on offer. Make use of the variety of ideologies at our disposal. But our task is different. A new Church demands freedom from the accretions and accumulations of time. We need to sweep away whatever makes the Word inaccessible. Just as individuals need to be set free from their past, so too do Institutions which are made up of individuals. We will only realise the need for change when we discover people who are not being reached. Recognising the signs of the times means risking letting go of much of the past. If Jesus had taken all the Jewish traditions on board he would have made many more converts, but nothing would have changed and the truth would have remained “safely” locked up.
Mission is not something extraordinary, it does not require the presence of genius; simply ordinary folk prepared to do ordinary things, extraordinarily well. When we rely over much on system and method we end up transmitting ideology, religion or culture, rather than access to Jesus Christ
Image from Saint David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire.
We live in secular times – in the course of the ages we have taken more and more possession of the earth and all it contains; we control much more than people of ages past. We also have better self-awareness – realising that customs, rules and ideas of order and beauty are not always shared by other societies. Customs and traditions are not the inevitable and only right way of doing things.
When we understood less we tended to see the transcendent God as the all-powerful organiser. This God made thunder when he was angry, sent plagues and disasters to punish and redressed everything that had gone wrong. God worked in unseen ways. Outwardly a man might seem good and virtuous, inwardly he could have lost God’s grace and be out of sorts with God and living in darkness. Lost God’s Grace – outwardly, before and after baptism there might be no difference in a person – inwardly there can be all the difference between night and day in that realm where God is active and inaccessible to our experience. As we began to take more control of the world, we also took more responsibility for what was going on – in the external world. We have lightening conductors replacing the sign of the cross; we have air traffic control instead of prayers for travellers; we have learned to seed clouds from the air instead of novenas for rain.
This has also made its way into the inner world of our spiritual life. We are starting to distrust ritual ways of obtaining God’s favour. We have reasoned that a person can’t receive additional charity unless we are really loving more and more. Accounts of the spiritual life, the redemptive work of Christ and the service of the Church are now sounding more like common sense psychology than strictly Christian teaching. Some are even doing away with the idea of Grace.
Mosaic from S Aloysius, Somers Town, London, (near Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross). While I know trains are very safe, I like to make a pilgrim’s prayer if I find this church open. MMB.
She was coming out of the corner shop, on her way to choir before her night shift at the Hospice. In her hand a packet of halal biscuits: I knew she was careful what she ate but not that careful …
‘I forgot to pack a snack to share,’ she said, ‘so I popped in and thought, these look interesting. pistachio wafers. There’s an unwritten tradition at work that we bring something to share through the night. Sometimes I bring crisps or grapes. We may not all three sit down together but we can still share.’
Shared food building the team, or if you like, the community. Shared food asserting life in the face of death.
So why did Jesus eat with all sorts of people? What happened on Maundy Thursday? He took our natural sharing to another level: this is my body, given for you. A promise that transforms every shared meal.
The boy shared his bread and fish with Jesus … Strasbourg Cathedral
Theologians agree that there have been only two papal statements that fall into the infallible category – the Immaculate Conception in the Nineteenth Century and the Assumption in the Twentieth. In both case the popes claimed to be giving expression to the faith of the Church as it could be traced back to apostolic times. In neither case did they give a philosophical or theological explanation of how these dogmas should be interpreted. They simply gave voice to the faith and practice of believers. What was being said about Mary expressed the ideals for which the Christian community was striving. Believers were not asking whether Marian doctrine was to be interpreted in a particular biological sense; they knew it had nothing to do with the purpose for which the teachings were being proposed. Neither did the papal definitions answer those questions, but simply encouraged devotion through which believers expressed their desire to live the Gospel.
Because most Catholics had assumed a static and unified Church organisation, it was easy to assume that this pattern was more or less set by Christ and should never be changed. The study of history shows that it was all changing all the time, and that it looked very different at some times, so much so that we have to ask what is of the divine and necessary plan and what is simply a human attempt to organise life in community as best serves its purpose. Whatever belongs to this category can obviously be changed again when the times call for it.
There is ongoing research into collegiality and the relation between pope and bishops. When Vatican I passed the Constitution Pater Aeternus there were two issues at stake concerning the pope. His power to command and rule in dioceses other than his own, and the question of infallibility. It is not possible to assume that the pope cannot make mistakes, or even fall into heresy. Classic Canon Law says: if the pope falls into heresy he must be deposed. The law considers it most unlikely, but provision must be made for the possibility. If they had held the hot line theory they would never have considered even the possibility of this happening.
Infallibility is severely restricted; an interesting point, because some believed – including some bishops – that the Pope was always infallible and could never make a mistake in teaching Christian doctrine. The Council clearly disagreed, attributing absolute authority only to God. It declared that the Pope possesses only that infallibility which God willed to give to the Church, whenever he solemnly and officially defines a doctrine to be held by the whole Church concerning faith or morals.
So, what about Humanae Vitae? The German bishops, advised by Rahner, issued a statement telling the people the importance of the encyclical and its primary aim to protect the person and the sanctity of marriage. They also pointed out that the encyclical did not take from them their ultimate, personal decision of conscience in the matter of birth control. Some asked how this could be when the Pope had given his judgement on the matter and the Pope is infallible.
Rahner addressed this with a simple and clear explanation. The infallibility of the Pope as recognised by Vatican I applies only to solemn statements – ex cathedra – in which the Pope explicitly claims infallibility. And he can only claim it when it is clear that he is giving expression to the faith of the whole Church, when he is speaking for the whole assembly of the faithful. Pope Paul did not claim infallibility in this statement, but simply gave his personal judgement. He could not have claimed infallibility because his commission, which had studied the tradition from the past and the evidence of the world community of the faithful, had advised him to the contrary of his own judgement.
Some have argued that even when the Pope did not explicitly claim infallibility, the faithful should consider his words infallible and end all discussion. Rahner replied: while Catholics should always listen to the teaching of the Pope with respect, they would not be obeying Christ or the Church if they made no distinction between infallible and non-infallible teachings. They would be refusing to play their own role in the development of doctrine by leaving all the responsibility, unthinkingly, to one man.
This man does not have the experience of married people and cannot even put their questions to theologians unless married people describe to him their experience and the questions arising out of this. Nor does he have the expertise and time for research that theologians have. If the whole Church waits for him to ask the right questions and find the right answers, many will be shirking their own responsibility – and perhaps would deserve to wait indefinitely for answers.
We must be sure to understand papal infallibility correctly. An easy but erroneous analogy – the Pope has a private hot-line to heaven, and when he is stuck he gets a revelation to solve the problem. The communication is not drawn from heaven but from the tradition of believers down through the ages. They were taught that public revelation ceased with the death of the apostles, in the sense that the Church would not be given special answers from heaven to new problems; there will always be the need to search the Scriptures and tradition.
Have we missed the point? The Church’s teaching can change about some matters but not about the truths God has revealed. These are eternal and remain forever. It may not be immediately evident how much our thinking depends on how we understand Revelation. In the past theologians discussed which particular truths God has revealed, and whether we knew Revelation through Scripture alone or also through the living tradition of the Church. Today’s preoccupation has more to do with what is Revelation?
It is himself that God reveals, showing himself more clearly than he was known before, showing something about himself that was hidden or not noticed before. He shows himself as Saviour, merciful and gracious, making life worthwhile and giving meaning to our existence. Does God do this by speaking words, or by events? If it is words – how does he speak, what language and to whom does he speak? If God uses events and not speech what is the difference between reason and revelation? How important are the words we have in our Creeds?
The Church turned specifically to these questions in Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Revelation. Dei VerbumThis document takes us to the Bible to understand Revelation, and refers to the Bible as modern Scripture scholarship has learned to interpret it. It does not claim that all of the Bible is Revelation nor that all Revelation is in the Bible. It claims that the Bible offers us the classic instance from which we can understand how and what God reveals.
The Bible as a rule records events that happened in the history of God’s special people – such as the Exodus; the achievement of a common identity in the journeying in the desert. Sometimes it records the same events in different ways. The purpose of the telling is not to give an accurate chronicle of all events, but to give an interpretation of how clearly God’s mercy and faithfulness and love for his people was clearly manifest.
In the crossing of the Sea of Reeds – Exodus 14 – for example, it is never clear whether the people were able to get through because an easterly wind cleared the waterbed, or whether the waters parted instantaneously when Moses raised his staff, or whether they saw an intervention of an angel. The narrator seems completely unconcerned about giving a factual account, perhaps because what was important to him was that through their escape from slavery the people realised God’s care for them.