We all have a personal idea of what our faith is and what it means; and we generally take some sort of a lead from a particular religious group – most often, a Church of some description. Each variation of ‘Church’ has it’s own particular beliefs and dogma’s, it’s own “must believes” and “can believes” and a smattering of those things which are “free to believe but not necessary”.
Division occurs all too often – and as much within churches as between them; and that is often where the real problems begin. And looking inside from without and from within, it tends to be the divisions we see.
For those within and looking out, this can lead to a sense of imperious judgement on those who are not part of the group – I have even read the stated desire of some to have some sort of theocracy imposed on everyone in the world; this, despite the equally stated reminder of the Lord that “My kingdom is not of this world” – and also in spite of the reality that faith is a gift, something to be shared, but never imposed.
And looking inside from without, I expect all this leaves people shaking their heads in utter disbelief that this kingdom is truly divided upon itself; what is there in it that would conceivably convince anyone outside to enter into it? Why would anyone want to sign up? And why would anyone already within wish to remain there?
For the Catholic Church, we celebrated Mission Sunday yesterday – the reminder that we are called to go out to the whole world and to “make disciples of all nations”. But to ‘make’ disciples, we first need to ‘be’ disciples. And that means we need to become reflections of the One we profess to follow. And that One came “to serve, not to be served”; to embrace and welcome all, especially the sinners; and to give all for love of God and of each of those neighbours, just as the Lord did.
As far as I can see, we don’t seem to make such a great job of all this, as a general rule.
Our instinct seems to be on what divides, rather than what unites us; we are too focussed on wanting everyone else to agree with precisely what we believe, rather than sharing our joy in our belief – something which is more likely to draw others to us and to those beliefs.
The end result of all this is, ultimately, that we are quite unable to do as the Lord commanded us – “go, make disciples of all nations”. We lose our ability to evangelise – in fact, we lose any ability to see the need to evangelise, so focussed have we become on those divisions.
Perhaps it really is time to look again at what unites us.