The Rector writes …
Just before I left my last parish in Hackney ten years ago we conducted a census of the congregation asking where they originated. It was a measure of just how diverse our Catholic communities have become as ninety-three different nationalities were identified. I suspect that if the same exercise were attempted here in Spanish Place the result would not be far different. By definition, the term Catholic means universal and all-embracing but its derivation is partly from the word “holos” which leads us to the concept of something being “holistic”. We have become used to the notion of holistic medicine where the differing aspects of the human person need to inter-act positively for full health and perhaps this is an understanding that we can apply helpfully to the Church in general and to our parishes in particular. Local Catholic communities should be microcosms of wider society and should be providing both an example and a pattern of wholeness. At a time when tensions within nations (not least our own) are so obvious, and where faction and division are a common experience of civil society, the Catholic Church should be offering a model of unity in and through diversity (given its belief that everything that exists takes its being from the Trinitarian communion of the Godhead).
It does us well ro remember that Jesus’s commission to Saint Peter “feed my lambs” and “look after my sheep” (John 212:17) is central to the ministry of his Successors and that Pope Francis is a focus of unity not just for those who identify as Roman Catholics but for those who are part of the twenty-four autonomous churches in communion with Rome – each of whom have their own particular rites and customs. It is too easy for us here in the Latin Church to get hung-up about the minutiae of our own liturgical preferences without taking into account those who share the Eucharist with us and whose experience of worship is vastly different – take only for example the Ge-ez of Ethiopia or the Syrio Malabaris of southern India. Under the vastness of the Catholic umbrella shelters so much richness of which we ought to be justly proud: differing traditions expressing a common faith in what God has revealed of himself in Jesus Christ and held together by the cement of a shared sacramental union. “Through the liturgical life of a local Church, Christ, the light and salvation of all peoples, is made manifest to the particular culture to which that Church is sent and in which she is rooted” (Catechism:1202).
The Catechism goes on to underline the fundamental duty of the Church which is to continue the incarnation of Christ’s love in each succeeding generation: “In keeping with their vocations, the demands of the times and the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, the apostolate assumes the most varied forms. But charity, drawn from the Eucharist above all, is always as it were the soul of the whole apostolate”. The first great theologian of Africa, a man called Tertullian (who was born in AD 160) imagined pagans of his own times looking at the followers of Jesus Christ and saying: “see how these Christians love one another and how they are ready to die for each other”. The challenge for us today is to allow that charity (whose source is the heart of God ) to fire our parishes so that we can again be characterised by the genuine concern we have for each other’s welfare – and, of course, as flowing from God himself, charity is ever creative and must reach out to embrace a wider community. “Charity is the greatest social commandment. It respects others and their rights. It requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of it. Charity inspires a life of self-giving” (Catechism:1889). It is right that we should rejoice in the diversity of our parishes, while doing all that we can to enhance their unity, and recognising the vision of catholicity, of wholeness, which we have a responsibility to hold out to a troubled society – remembering always: “we are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7)