Category Archives: Ecumenism

Posts relating to Religious unity.



W see, through a glass, darkly. (1 Corinthians 13: 12-13)
We see, through a glass, darkly. (1 Corinthians 13: 12-13)


(the first post in this series is here)

In the context of New Evangelisation I often hear the phrase..”In this de-Christianised world of ours…”  or something similar.  When people say this what are they seeing?  How do they see the world?  Very darkly indeed, I presume.

Maybe they are seeing the sharp decline in church attendance, the changing patterns of lifestyle and relationships and the global rise in consumerism.  Perhaps such things obscure their vision.  The first premise, surely, of all Evangelisation is that God is present here among us now. We are all his children: already.

When I was in teaching I used to say to my teachers, “Your job is not  to teach so much as to recognise and celebrate the learning that you discover in your pupils.”  The challenge to the staff was to offer experiences in which the learning of pupils could be recognised by them and celebrated by all.  To evangelise is to recognise Christ in all people, in each person we meet.

memories for the 79 people who died on the rails below this bridge in Santiago de Compostella, July 24th 2013.
Little recognitions for the 79 people who died on the rails below this bridge in Santiago de Compostella, July 24th 2013.

Recognise God in all things and all of his children.

I struggle with my prejudices.  My skin, like all human skin is transparent and more or less soft but I inhabit another shell which is thick and solid and opaque: it protects me and imprisons me.  It excludes those I distrust because they seem to be different from me and might damage me.  It prevents me from recognising others as my bothers and sisters.

I struggle with my selective intellect.  My world is defined by what I already know and understand.  My preferred authors are those in whose books I can read what I already think.  I want others to obey the rules of the logic my Scottish, Catholic culture wrote into my cells from their inception.

Seeing the whole picture is not easy.
Seeing the whole picture is not easy.

Though you have eyes, don’t you see: though you have ears don’t you hear?”

I have found the advice of Ignatius Loyola very effective when it comes to dealing with my solid outer crust and love of familiarity and comfort which dulls my vision.  It is simple: to correct an imbalance lean in the other direction. So at table I avoid those I would prefer to sit beside and talk with people to whom I am not attracted or even find distasteful.  Nearly always I see much which I hadn´t seen and hear things I would not normally hear. I begin to recognise Christ’s presence where I would not have chosen to look.

At first sight we do not see the treasures in the other.
At first sight we do not always see the treasures in the other.

Recognise God in all people.

The task is not as much to preach as to recognise and celebrate God’s presence in every person.  If we start with the premise that some people don’t know God and that we do, we are blind.  The challenge to the evangelist is to offer a shared space of communion in which he or she can recognise and celebrate God’s loving presence in the other and in all people.  This happens especially by Receiving the other into our open hearts and open minds.

As noted in The first ¨R¨¨,  ” the really Good News for evangelists is that there is no need to preach or teach or mention God,”  We might even see that  there is a strong correlation between the decline in church attendence and the unprecedented growth in christian values and practice in the past 100 years by people of all faiths and none.   We all accept the decline of church attendence in the USA and Europe – and just Google “Is the world getting better or worse?” to see masses of evidence that as the prayer of the Iona Community affirms, “God’s goodness is planted more deeply than all that is wrong.”

Crude perhaps, but gives thumbs up to goodness.
Crude perhaps, but gives thumbs up to goodness.

Recognising and celebrating such growth is the work of evangelisation.  It is nothing more than “seeing” God’s Love present with us now, as it always has been and will be. This, after all, is the Good News.  Let us shake off the need to have others think like us and believe what we believe.  That, for me, is not evangelisation.  Instead let us recognise and celebrate, without pause, God’s loving presence in every aspect of our lives and in the lives of others.  The third “R” shows how effortless this task is.

Evangelising on the beach.
Evangelising on the beach.

further reading: from  which I recommend highly


The third “R” – click here

The first “R” – clicl here

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

"Do this in remembrance of me."
“Do this in remembrance of me.”


Breaking bread and bones.

I remember attending a Hibs v. Dundee match in 1968 where, in one of those rare moments of silence in a game,  Dundee’s great goal scorer, John Duncan, was heavily tackled,  right in front of me.  The Easter Road stadium resounded with a crack as his tibia broke.

Many years later at a passover meal I was reminded of that moment when the matzo was broken with a sharp crack.  Matzos break with the same sound as bones break.  My memory reminded me of the moment the player broke his leg. The scriptures, especially John’s gospel,  make it clear that Jesus did not have any of his bones broken.  At the last supper Jesus broke the unleavened bread, undoubtedly with a sharp “crack!”.

Matzos, Jewish unleavened bread.
Matzos, Jewish unleavened bread.

What Jesus then said was,  “Do this in memory of me.”

Broken bones or not, we have made a lot of doctrine and talked a lot of Theology about the Last Supper but these words leave no room for misinterpretation.  When I was walking through Spain on the Way of St. James last month,  bread was the core of my diet along with fruit picked on the roadside.  So whenever I sat down to eat, I would take the local bread and break it very consciously recalling Jesus’  words.  The walk was over 500 miles and I can’t remember just when I began to do this but it was early on.

A wonderful bakery in Grañan, on the Way of St James.
A wonderful bakery in Grañan, on the Way of St James.

In doing, memory brings us into Christ.

For days and weeks, sitting on stones or walls, or benches or trees I broke my bread letting the Last Supper of Jesus fill me.  In the doing itself images began to give way to presence, simply being subsumed in the act of breaking the bread into a oneness for which I have no words.  I had emotions of all sorts from tears to joy and always peace,  deep quiet peace and a heart touched by Love.  Maybe we should throw our breadknives into the recycle bin and use our hands to break bread always.

When I would find a Mass,  I would go to it, pleased to join others in this memorial act which brings us together always as one in Christ.

It seemed fitting to me that other pilgrims would share the bread although I know they were not always Catholics.  Breaking the bread is not about breaking bones at all, or breaking anything for that matter: it is about making One.

A Pilgrims' Mass ends in Roncevalles at the start of the Way of St. James in Spain.
A Pilgrims’ Mass ends in Roncevalles at the start of the Way of St. James in Spain.



The Church built on a pun.

The Church built on a pun.


Pope¡s buried in St Peter's Basilica
Popes buried in St Peter’s Basilica

There are many ways of reading a text, any text.  Matthew 16.18 is no exception. However, in the long tradition of Church Doctrine, there is only one, universal, authoritative teaching which can prevail and deliver for all mankind the true meaning of Matthew’s reporting of Jesus’ words, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.”  The Catholic Church holds the key.

What speaks to me, today, on the feast of Peter and Paul is not so much the pun as the anachronism that in Jesus’ day the Church had not begun and when it did, after his death, there appear to have been quite a few churches and many different ways of expressing and living out the Good News.  Indeed Matthew is the only gospel to mention “Church”, a term which grew up as the early Christians began to form assemblies.

Indeed, the account in Acts of the first Council of Jerusalem, shows just how different the views were between some groups and the issue of the circumcision of Gentiles was a hot topic, a bit like gay marriage today, I imagine.  It was Paul’s liberal view which won out against Peter, the rock.

I let my imagination go further.  One predominant theme of Matthew’s Gospel is the way in which the Jewish scriptures foretold and point to Jesus as the Saviour of the Jews.  The Gospel is almost bitter about how the Jews have missed out on the Messiah. So would the church in which Matthew’s gospel took shape not, maybe, be a bit put out over the concessions to the gentiles, still smarting from Paul’s persuasiveness?

To me this could explain the text in quite a different light – an ironic pun which attempts to re-establish apostolic authority when the reality was very different.

What was actually happening was that the Holy Spirit, present in the churches, can be seen at work guiding and leading Christians in the most surprising ways through the “apostle” Paul.  Nothing, not even Papal authority, should get in the way of our openness to the Holy Spirit, lest we be like the Jews in Jesus’ day who missed out on their Messiah.

see also


Naivety for the Nativity.

UnityNaïvety for the Nativity.


How much Christology, how much Ecclesiology and how much Sacramental

Theology did Mary have as she brought Jesus into this world?


This nativity I want to be simple and naïve.  This child is born and the night before he died he prayed, 

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one.” John 17. 20-22


This was just after the institution of the Eucharist.


How is it then that we can sit down and share a meal with people who hold different beliefs from ourselves on politics or economics or gay marriage and, without aggression, talk and enjoy sharing the meal.  In our pluralistic society we do this frequently and we can do so in love, not confusing love with differences of opinion.  This is in the “world”: unbaptised and materialistic.


Why is it, then, that those who believe fully the fundamentally in

“the personal love of God who became man, who

gave himself up for us, who is living and who

offers us his salvation and his friendship. ”  [Evangelii Gaudium 99]

cannot share the same table and eat His body and drink His blood together as he asked us to do?    



I want to let the child in me be naïve, to accept in love and trust my fellow Christian, whatever his/her colour, however they understand the Trinity or dislike statues, or think in their human heads that the bread and wine changes substantially or represents symbolically the body and blood of Jesus.  To the child in me these things make no sense, they are things which adults argue about and war over.

All I want is to love, to belong to this great family that God cares for, to give joy to the world, to let God live in me and me in Him and to celebrate this life I have, to take care of the world into which I have been born, to contribute what I can from where I am, to share the Good News and to eat at the same table as he told me to.

In my naïvety I listen to Francis saying,

“Spiritual worldliness leads some Christians to war with other Christians

who stand in the way of their quest for power, prestige, pleasure and economic security.

Some are even no longer content to live as part of the greater Church community but stoke

a spirit of exclusivity, creating an “inner circle”. Instead of belonging to the whole Church in

all its rich variety, they belong to this or that group which thinks itself different or special.” (Evangelii Gaudium 98)

In my naïvety, I went one summer to Iona.  Nobody asked me if I was a Catholic or Protestant, Episcopalian or Orthodox, or Calvinist or Lutheran.  The priest was a woman, the Eucharist full of love and unity, the preparation a work of the heart directed in compassion towards the needs of others throughout the world and, after a week gathered together, we left, scattered to America, Australia, Asia and Europe to continue by prayer and by example to share the Good News so that others might believe in Him.

In my naïvety I don’t see any need for more commissions, dialogue or debate before  we share the Eucharist.  We need to share the Eucharist first and around the table learn from each other the wonderful richness of our differences which in reality do not divide but complement.  Let us be one in all innocence.




Iona Abbey, ecumenism at work, hosted by the Church of Scotland.
Iona Abbey, ecumenism at work, hosted by the Church of Scotland.