No-one has a monopoly on Christ

 

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Last week the Pope visited the Lutheran church in Sweden in order to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

It might seem strange for a Catholic Pope to commemorate in any positive way an event which caused a seemingly irreconcilable split in the Christian church. However, Pope Francis said, “With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality to Sacred Scripture in the Church’s life.”

When I first became Catholic, I might have felt threatened by this. I wanted to assert my Catholic identity by kicking against the church I had come from. There was a very great temptation to see everything Catholic as good, and what I had left behind in the Protestant church as bad or at least inadequate.

However, I’ve come to recognise that a part of me will always be Protestant. By becoming Catholic, I didn’t change my personality or my family background. A priest who is a Protestant convert told me to treasure this part of me, because it would make a positive contribution to the church. I didn’t want to listen to him at first. However, I now recognise the wisdom of what he said.

Christ broke down barriers

If Christ was here today, I am sure that he wouldn’t stick to one church and ignore the rest. He would reach out to all sorts of people in many different kinds of churches. He would also hang out with people who wouldn’t dream of darkening the door of a church. Christ would be found in pubs and betting shops and at street corners. He would talk to homeless people in doorways and lost and lonely people in mental hospitals and care homes.

During his ministry, the sharp end of his tongue most often fell on the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of his day. He criticised them for burdening people with rules. In the stories he told, the poor and dispossessed are invited to a wedding feast and a father gives the son who squandered his fortune a lavish welcome.

Jesus was someone who tipped over conventions and broke down barriers. He healed on the Sabbath day. He mixed with women. Not only that, he mixed with women from other religious backgrounds. His disciples were astonished to find him conversing with a Samaritan woman. He healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman and the servant of one of the Roman soldiers who was occupying Palestine.

Five hundred years ago, part of the Christian church branched away. Since then it has divided many times. I was brought up in a church which had split at least four times since the Reformation. There are so many differences in interpretation of the Bible and forms of worship that the differences between churches seem irreconcilable. However, what is impossible in a human level is not impossible for God. Perhaps, beneath it all, there is an underlying unity which we miss because we are so concentrated on the surface details.

Recognising the other

What I am sure about, is that Christ is not constrained by our barriers. He sees what we cannot. In an article in the Catholic newspaper, The Tablet, the Lutheran archbishop emeritus, Anders Wejryd, said of the Pope’s visit to Sweden, “When it comes to ecumenism, the first stage is diplomacy. That you acknowledge that the other is there and that the other church is more or less a real church, even if you don’t share all of its opinions.”

He describes what to me is a Christ-like attitude. At a time when politics seems to be increasingly about divisions and Us against Them, it is advice which could be applied not just to religious differences, but to our daily life. Barriers will only be broken down when we learn to see others as they really are.

A reluctant reader

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I wanted to write a blog entry about something I came across in The Tablet at the end of last week. When I started thinking about it, I realised that The Tablet played a role in my conversion, although it wasn’t anything sudden, more of a steady drip drip effect over the years, and I decided that I needed to first write a post about that.

For those who don’t know, The Tablet is a weekly newspaper which covers national (British) and international news from a Catholic viewpoint. It also contains church news, spiritual reflections and reviews. Close to ten years ago, one of my in-laws gave us a gift subscription to The Tablet and my husband has kept up the subscription ever since.

At first I refused to read The Tablet. Not only was I not a Catholic, but I didn’t want anything to do with religion, and I was wary about reading anything written from a Christian viewpoint in case I felt that I was being preached at or put under pressure to convert. My husband encouraged me to read it for the analysis of international affairs. When he’d finished with each issue, he left it on top of the bed on my side. Sometimes it was easier just to open The Tablet than to move it somewhere else. Soon I was hooked and looking forward to the next issue. I started with the news items, and then went on to the book and film reviews. Anything to do with the church or spirituality was avoided like the plague.

A Catholic world view came across in the news articles, and I was impressed that Catholics cared about issues like poverty or the environment or mental health. I cared very much about the environment. Many years ago I struggled with the view, among some of the Christians I knew, that if God is going to give us a new heaven and a new earth anyway, why bother looking after this one? This attitude was also coloured with the belief that since the earth will be trashed during Armageddon anyway, there is really no point taking care of it. These attitudes contributed to me leaving the church, although they were by no means the only reason. Incidentally, I am challenged, delighted and filled with new hope by the Pope’s encyclical on the environment, but going into my thoughts on this would require a post all to itself.

Nowadays, when I read the Tablet, I enjoy the articles on spirituality and even try to read some of the pieces on church issues although I sometimes give up before I reach the end. Reading an article on an ecclesiastical issue, is like starting to watch a film half-way through, and trying to pick up the thread of the story, as well as struggling to work out unfamiliar concepts such as encyclicals, canon law and papal infallibility. Another bit I always turn to is the Living Spirit section which has quotes from the Bible or other sources. Now and then I have found a few lines which have spoken directly to my situation there and then, but I’ll write more about that in the next post.