Sunday, 25 January 2015

Homily for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

God’s Gift of Unity

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about cloning, the division of individual animals (or even humans) so that the person next to me would be an exact genetic copy of myself. A slightly barmy American scientist commented that if scientists do clone human beings they will be exercising a power equivalent to God’s.

But the point, and the wonder, of God’s creative power is that, far from making clones, God creates unique individuals. There are billions of human beings but no two faces are exactly alike. No two sets of fingerprints, no two DNA codes are exactly alike. Certainly no two experiences of life and love are exactly alike. Creation is about variety, distinctiveness, uniqueness and individuality, not about sameness, uniformity, repetition and monotony. There is no other being who enjoys the existence which is God’s unique gift to me. My present work obliges me at times to meet with many people, sometimes up to fifteen in a day, talking about their lives and their concerns. 'Is it not boring?', friends ask. In all honesty, it is not, because the ways of grace are so different in the life of each person. Each story is a new one, and full of interest.

Some forty years ago Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit, developed a slightly eccentric vision of creation evolving towards a fulfilment which he called ‘Omega point’, a moment or level of reality in which the entire universe will be taken up into Christ. For Teilhard, as for the Fathers of the Church, humanity leads all creation towards God. Physical evolution is followed by moral and spiritual progress, a progress that involves at one and the same time greater individuality and greater unity.

This may seem strange at first. Surely greater individuality means greater disunity since the more each of us becomes ourselves the more different we are from everybody else? And greater unity must involve the sacrifice of individuality as we agree to let go some of our distinctiveness for the sake of unity? Not so, says Teilhard, because the power by which creation is evolving is the power of love. What does love do? Hold together what is the same? Introduce clones to each other (so that well known songs become ‘the first time, ever I saw my face’ and ‘some enchanted evening, you may see yourself, across a crowded room’)? On the contrary. The power of love holds together and unites things that are different.

Teilhard is on solid ground here, basing himself on what the New Testament says about the work of God’s Spirit of love. In 1 Corinthians 12 Saint Paul speaks of a variety of gifts within the people of God but one Spirit. He says there are all kinds of service to be done but always to the same Lord. Working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God working in all of them. For Saint Paul love establishes things in their unique individuality even while uniting them more strongly with all that is different. In the text referred to he continues by speaking about the human body, a symbol for the unity of Christ, a body made up of different parts and functions but animated and held together in unity by one Spirit.

It is a central Christian prayer that all may be one, but this surely cannot mean some kind of collapse or reduction of variety, uniqueness and individuality into a monotonous sameness. January 18th marks the beginning of the week of prayer for Christian unity. It is not clear yet what kind of institutional unity may be possible between the followers of Christ who are currently divided from each other. It certainly will not involve a kind of ‘religious cloning’ so that the different approaches to prayer and worship, different theological styles and emphases, different spiritualities and traditions of religious life — it cannot mean that all this will collapse into just one way of doing things.

At the same time there must be some fundamental agreement between individuals and groups if they are to be at one with each other. The impetus towards greater respect and deeper understanding of other Christian denominations, and of people of other faiths, must continue at full strength. A central task of our time is to increase understanding between the world’s great religions and to sustain on-going dialogue with all who ‘seek God with a sincere heart’ (Eucharistic Prayer IV).

Any unity we enjoy resides in the first place in God, source of all life and love. We are allowed, and enabled, to share in the unity which is God’s, to have some glimpse of it in our own experiences of love. Even in God unity does not mean dull uniformity and monotonous sameness for within God’s absolute unity there are three Persons, the Father and the Son and the Spirit of love who binds them as one. Within our own experience is the reality of marriage, the remarkable and wonderful union of a man and a woman, a privileged place of love and unity where two who are different become one while remaining always themselves.

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