Sunday, December 24, 2006

Bid Thou our sad divisions cease

This morning as I drove to Mass our neighbours were three cars in front driving to their Church, and we passed a friend and her family walking to yet another Church, and the reality of Christian division hit me in the face. (Yes, I know. I'm slow. It is only 450 years or so since the Reformation.) I thought how wonderful it would be if we were all going to the same Church - ONE Church - worshipping together, celebrating the same feasts, visibly part of the single Body of Christ ... and I grasped at a deeper level than before that this was once reality. And it was bigger and more fundamental than just all Christians belonging to the same Church - in western Europe it meant the whole of society, for with few exception all were Christians. Of course I appreciate the sense of being part of the Body of Christ that comes with being Catholic, but imagine how much greater that sense would be if Christianity was not divided. Then imagine what it must have been like to live in a truly Christian country, with a complete overlap between Church and society.

For the first time I understood the way the Reformation fractured not only the Church but society as a whole. That sense of unity ripped away; the common understanding of the meaning of life (and death) gone. And also I understood why the rulers of Western Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were prepared to fight (literally, catastrophically and regrettably) to maintain unity, whether Catholic or Protestant; why the Tudor and Stuart kings and queens were prepared to persecute dissenters - both Catholic and Protestant - in order to ensure as best they could that English society and the Church of England remained one and the same. It was not just a megalomaniac urge to have everyone worship the way they chose; they truly believed it to be an essential for a united realm.

Ever the optimist, I always tend to focus on what we share with other Christians, but today I was just overwhelmed by the tragedy of a fractured Church. At the most simple level, friends headed in different directions to worship the same Lord ... and tomorrow to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. Divisions within divisions, making unity harder than ever to achieve. And worst of all, here in England at least, Christian society broken ... Christians a minority, where faith is considered at best a harmless eccentricity and at worst a threat to the very society that was built on Christian principles in the first place.

Still, as I said, I am an optimist. If there is ever a time when we can feel hope for an end to division, it must be Christmas. This morning at Mass we sang my favourite Advent carol, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, which includes this verse ...

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

I love that at Christmas is that there is enough peace and goodwill in the air to feel a little of that lost unity. Tonight there will be community carol singing in our High Street, organised by the local Churches Together and attended by people from all the Churches and none ... all singing to welcome the Baby whose birth changed not just the world but heaven too - Emmanuel, God With Us. Thank God for that Baby, and for Christmas!


causa nostra laetitiae said...

I know how you feel. Ironically, the one thing that brings Christians together in the US is the horror of abortion. We have prayed in front of abortion mills many times with Christians of different stripes. Old ladies praying the rosary in front of the mills have converted many an atheist, including Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the founders of abortion legislation in this country, and Norma McCorvey the woman whose case legalized abortion here in 1973.

Alice Gunther said...

Beautiful thoughts, Kathryn.