Bread broken is bread shared, the theology books howl. Not so
over the past few weeks! There has been a little theological
blood-letting of late with the unholy row over a shared Eucharist in
Drogheda between three Catholic priests and an Anglican minister.
There has been a scramble for the best places on the high moral ground and the best position on the theological totem pole. Their positions are so far apart from each other that it is difficult for both sides to hear each other. That is why one must resort to shouting.
One can dig in more securely in one’s own little space and holler over at the ‘other side.’ You can feel secure on your own little patch of earth, or heaven, as the case may be. The battle lines are drawn.
The definitive people
On the one hand there are the ‘yes or no’ people. The act of concelebrating the Eucharist with a ‘Protestant’ minister was right or wrong - the yes or no brigade. There is no neutral ground for these people. Neutrality is like any colour outside of black or white. It is a shade that leads you into the quicksand of the middle ground of no man’s land.
The colours of the rainbow are not seen by these people. They have no recollection or remembrance of God’s promise of the Covenant expressed in the rainbow. They are book people, not Book people. They retreat into the narrow confines of their own minds, ordered by formulae and as logical as simple mathematics.
Two and two will always be four for these people. Confusion enters when you ask them to add two apples and two oranges together. Their world is contained within their own minds.
They have nothing to learn and something ‘different’ is seen as something ‘wrong.’ Anything outside of their own experience is suspicious. They live ordered lives, timed to perfection where orthodoxy and orthopraxis walk side by side. There is nothing new because all the questions have already been asked and they know the answers by heart. ‘There is nothing new under the sun’.
Then there are those for whom difference is the spice of life. Being different is their elixir of life. It draws attention to them and puts them in a place they love being, the spotlight. They will test the obvious at every turn and challenge whatever stands before them.
They are the tangent people, who will head left or right as the mood, opportunity or crowd takes them. They are free-flowing in the torrent of everyday life. In some strange way stability makes them unstable, being definite makes them uneasy and absolutes terrify them. They run from any ‘absolute’ the same way that they run from a pack of hunting hounds.
The threat of having the security of an absolute is a threat to life itself. This great flux called living would stop flowing. Life would become a standstill. Everything is a journey. There is no hope or longing for a destination. If there is no crisis then one, however minor, is created, because life can only be lived in some form of crisis.
The shepherds’ thanksgiving after the storm would have no place with these toreadors as they march onwards, shouting and cajoling towards the next bullfight. Not for them the tranquillity or the certainty of a deep peace but rather the surety of restlessness.
Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring
Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ has two basis movements – the ongoing organ rippling out the notes that we all know so well, symbolising the restlessness of man, followed by the soft melody carrying the words of the title, and symbolising the peace of God. For created beings there is only a combination of both, the peace and surety alongside the restlessness and disconcerted. Sometimes it is more important that the sightlines are aimed towards the different rather than the rights or wrongs. Hiding in the high moral ground is still out of view. Life is never a collection of exactitudes or doubts. It is the mixture that makes life what it is. It is the certainty of becoming alongside the certainty of being. It is neither a neither nor a nor. It is a ‘both’ and an ‘and’. Life just is. The joy is in the combination of the restlessness and the peace. The rainbow has more colours than any combination of black and white.
Sometimes what is different is just different, not wrong. Times change, people change, laws change. If there are any absolutes then surely the absolute to love is all that is required. Any or all depends on that. Bob Dylan hits it on the head and the heart with his words: “...he weeps to wicked birds of prey who pick up on his bread crumb sins and there are no sins inside the Gates of Eden.” Later in the same song he concludes our majestic trip with: “At times I think there are no words but these to tell what’s true and there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden.”
Was it right and fitting for a priest, in fact three priests, to con-celebrate Mass with a Church of Ireland minister? Of course it was, scream some, do they not believe in the same God? Others, ensconced in their ecclesial pew on the theological totem pole, ask how a man whose Anglican Articles of Religion denounces Mass as ‘a blasphemous fable and a dangerous deceit’ can be allowed at the altar of sacrifice? There is also a question over the ‘priesthood’ of the Anglican minister because the Catholic Church does not accept Anglican holy orders and deems such clerics as members of an ‘ecclesial community’ rather than members of the priesthood. The Catholic Church claims that the Bishops are the successors of the Apostles (with the Pope as the successor of the leader of the Apostles, Peter) and other churches cannot claim that lineage because they emanated from the Reformation. Then there is the argument that we are all the same in God’s eyes and anyway who needs the ‘Church’ when you can have Jesus.
Enter Archbishop Diarmuid Martin from the capital and primate of Ireland (not All-Ireland note, that title is reserved for the Archbishop of Armagh!) stating that you cannot have Jesus without the church and vice-versa. Interesting times, no doubt, if one is into theological gymnastics and spending energy debating the rights and wrongs of something that was carried out in the context of unity, forgiveness and peace.
The ‘ah buts’ will then raise the issues of ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘orthopraxis’. Maybe it is time to realise that life is not a theology book. Every breath of every person is not taken in time with the thinking pattern of some theological chime.
Like most differences of opinion and arguments it all depends on your starting point. Whether both sides ever meet depends on that starting point. Usually the truth is found somewhere in the middle.
Unfortunately for us all it is often hanging on a cross. It is held there by both sides. Bread broken is sometimes just crumbs, because of us.