Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On Christian Unity

Over the conference weekend, I realized a problem regarding Christian unity. We wanted to worship with our guests, but they did not feel they could take Holy Communion in the Catholic church, even though they are Christian (Presbyterian). I felt that since they believe, they can partake. After all, nobody who believes should be denied the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so we went together and prayed. And received Holy Communion together.

Since it is the Easter season, the readings are taken from Acts of the Apostles, which are about the establishment of Christ's Church. The homily, given passionately by our seminarian, Dwight Lewis, was about leaving the Church because of sinful humans. Yes, some priests have done despicable things like abusing children. And those priests should be punished. But what Dwight focused on was our responsibility as Catholics. Are we going to leave? Or stay?

As for our family, we will stay in the Church. I am aware that the Church, although established by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, is still run by humans who are fallible.

But it got me thinking about the earliest separations. I can't remember how or why, but the Eastern bishops separated from the Roman Catholic Church a thousand years ago. Martin Luther fought against the corruption in the Church that eventually led to a schism -- it is dramatized in a wonderful movie. Then there's Henry VIII: he wanted to have a divorce but the Church would not allow it. So he broke away as well. And so it goes.

Cannot have abortion; leave the Church. Cannot have same-sex marriage; leave the Church. Women cannot be priests; leave the Church. Of course, it's not so flippant as I make it out to be. I know people think about these things long and hard before they make a decision to leave, and often the Catholic church is considered uncompromising. For good or for bad, people separated, the Church reformed, but the ones who separated didn't return to the fold. This is truly sad. But I have faith that one day we will all be united one day.

I know it sounds terribly presumptuous on my part to think that my church is the one true church. After all, I'm no scholar or theologian. Pray, do not take it in that light. I was baptized in a Methodist church and grew up as an Episcopalian. In India, Christians are a minority (probably 2-3%) and to me we were all Christians, united. It's only after I came to this country that I discovered the numerous denominations and only now am realizing the differences.

I left for 30 years, calling myself an atheist (but my friend Molly says I was the world's worst atheist) and finally started talking to God again. Mostly arguments. All one-sided, of course. Finally I shut up and started to listen and let the Holy Spirit guide me. And this is where I am.

My cursory studies into the history of the Catholic church shows me how it has been steadfast in upholding all the teachings throughout the ages, even when it is counter-cultural. I disagree or don't like certain things (and that's a topic for another day) but I am starting to understand the wisdom behind those doctrines. No longer am I a rebellious child, but one who is finally growing up. I feel as though I've come home.

So back to communion. The catechism says that non-Catholics shouldn't take communion in a Catholic church because their churches are not in communion with the Catholic church. They teach doctrines opposing the Church's teachings. Of course, many Catholics do not follow the teachings either. The Catholic church would be empty if we only allowed non-sinners.

And so I pray for Christian unity.

Here's a quote from St. Cyprian of Carthage who captures what I think.

We don't say "My Father, who art in heaven," nor "Give me this day my daily bread;" nor does each one ask that only his own debt should be forgiven him; nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation and may be delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one.

Please do sing along with me: One Bread, One Body



Bish Denham said...

You make some excellent points here, Vijaya.

Vijaya said...

Thanks, Bish.

Anonymous said...

Loving your topics, Vijaya. You always challenge me. The post on abortion was a tricky one; it lingered with me for a while...

I understand our thought regarding separations in the church, and made the same observations. When it comes to church leaders, it seems important to me that people, especially church goers remember that they are human, and as such they need our understanding, our prayers, but they also need us to chew and reflect on what they teach, because they is a danger in, I'm sorry to say, idolizing them...

As for who is right or not, unless it regards something that is harmful to others (and to the one doing whatever it is), it saddens me when it causes a rift between Christians. The following verses encourage me: Romans 14:22 and Romans 15:7

If a topic will not be a cause of separation in Heaven, why allow it to be one on Earth? Just wondering. :)

Thank you for such a deep post.

Anonymous said...

Apologies for the typos...

Vijaya said...

Nathalie, I'm glad that my posts are food for thought. I don't have answers, just questions. I'm like a baby Christian, trying to understand my faith. I had to look up the Romans quote :)

I think the burden on our leaders is tremendous. On Judgment Day they will be asked if they led their flock properly. The way I see it, our earthly lives are for growing, so that we may fulfil our eternal destiny.

This is why I love the Lord's Prayer because we ask for all the important things. "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, ON earth as it is in heaven." Notice the present tense ... everything is in perfect unity in Heaven.

Thanks for your thoughts.