All round Europe there are circles of standing stones, some more complete than others. They date back thousands of years, their construction, their purpose, a matter of much conjecture. One thing is sure, our ancestors were responsible for them and have left us a remarkable heritage of their times.
But in our age, they have lost meaning, a mere shadow in an open field season by season, of what once was.
Across those same European lands are the Christian cathedrals, magnificent architectural statements of faith from a time much nearer our own. How they were physically achieved has always fascinated me, but they were, and still are, a testimony of faith.
That was then, now is now; what’s changed? A great deal. We don’t deny the faith of earlier generations by asking that question. Previous generations are the tap root of our Christian experience. Indeed if we don’t ask questions about change with honesty and integrity, our future is bleak.
In Francis, Bishop of Rome, we have a man whose life experience is beyond this European cultural model. He has brought with him a South American concept of Church that is not steeped in this European mode of being Church. It is worth remembering that only a quarter of the world’s catholic Christians are resident in the European western culture.
By the time that these few lines are posted the Synod of Bishops will have concluded.
In the Interim Document, the ‘relatio’, issued at the mid-point of discussion, there was already evidence of tension. The Tablet website mentions that
“A key document from the bishops’ Synod on the Family calling for the Church to make radical changes to its pastoral approach to gays, divorce and remarried and those in civil marriages has been criticised by Cardinal George Pell as “tendentious and incomplete”.
In attempting to examine the experience of Christians in our time and to draw faith from it, there was always bound to be a contradiction with the clear cut, defined views of earlier times, not essentially on matters of doctrine but of how doctrine is experienced in our age.
Of course, we must remember that this document is only a staging post in an on-going discussion and that the Synod of October 2014 is a precursor to the General Synod next year. The Church is an act of faith and its members, living examples of faith in action.
That is where the focus must be clear and sharp. Our faith in the person of Jesus and our willingness to make the Gospel the sign post of our journey comes before everything. If that means being realistic in our time for the sake of the people, then that we must be.
No longer does the gas lighter switch on the city lights in early evening as in Eliot’s poem Preludes:
“…and at the corner of the street, a lonely cab horse steams and stamps. Then the lighting of the lamps”.
We live in a rapidly changing world, the cab horses have gone from London streets, along with the gas lamps. It is no wonder that such a changing world is reflected in the discussion at the Synod gathering. Some things last, others are useful while they last. We have to learn to distinguish which is which.
The doctrine we hold must be a life force for our times, otherwise it (and we) will become ossified like ancient stones and that will help no-one.
The picture that heads this piece shows a single bird hovering in the sunlight revealed by cloud breaking over stones. It might not be too fanciful to regard that image as symbolic of the Spirit renewing the Church, continuing the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in our midst.
The few lines below were written before this posting was prepared, but they nicely reflect the tone of what I have been trying to say.
In the field, a circle of stones,
carefully placed, their feet
hidden in the overgrowth of uncut grass,
their rough grey surface etched with
green and yellow lichen.
Gathered for a purpose now long lost
they have stood erect beneath
countless Winter storms, later to be
warmed under a Summer sun,
mute memorials to a distant dream.
We must not let the Church that is our home, become a mute memorial to a distant dream. Like Francis of Assisi all those years ago, we too are called to rebuild our Church, here in the 21st Century.
Chris McDonnell Wednesday October 22nd 2014.