Christians in Ireland share responsibility in healing the pain of our troubled past

Outsiders see a history of division and sectarianism, of intolerance and open hostility

Archbishop Eamon Martin: “The reaction since my presence and words in the Church of Ireland cathedral on such a significant occasion, has affirmed my decision to accept the invitation.”

Archbishop Eamon Martin: “The reaction since my presence and words in the Church of Ireland cathedral on such a significant occasion, has affirmed my decision to accept the invitation.”

 

Three weeks ago I was invited to preach the homily at Choral Evensong in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh, to mark the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses.

I willingly accepted, inspired by the example of Pope Francis who travelled to Lund in Sweden last October for a joint Catholic-Lutheran prayer service to begin the anniversary year.

On that occasion, Pope Francis and the president of the World Lutheran Federation acknowledged that, while the Reformation has brought “spiritual and theological gifts” to the Christian church, it was accompanied by prejudice and conflicts. Humbly they confessed and lamented before Christ that Lutherans and Catholics “have wounded the visible unity of the church”.

Most Christians on the island of Ireland do not look to this particular anniversary as belonging directly to them – Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists trace their reformation roots to other sources. However, various church services and important study events have taken place recently to reflect on the significance of the year 1517 in the story of Christianity.

Enriched

My own homily at Choral Evensong presented ideas about “Reconciling the Reformation”. I stressed the agreement that exists across our traditions on key doctrinal issues, including the core issue of justification which triggered so much of the polemic and mutual condemnations of the Reformation period.

I believe that, in a culture of openness and dialogue, we can learn from, and be enriched by, each other. This is not to deny the differences that remain over issues such as church, Eucharist, ministry and the papacy.

The reaction since my presence and words in the Church of Ireland cathedral on such a significant occasion, has affirmed my decision to accept the invitation. I received a very warm welcome from Archbishop Clarke, Dean Gregory Dunstan and the local congregation who seemed unperturbed by my frequent use of quotations from the popes in Rome!

I have had to put up with Twitter trolls who tweeted ‘Shame on you’ and suggested I would make a very good ‘Protestant bishop’! I take it they have not read my homily

There was positive reaction also in the media and from other church leaders who contacted me personally to welcome my comments and say thanks. I have received positive feedback from within my own community, including from one gentleman who asked me to sign the order of service as a souvenir of what he called “a very historic moment”.

Mind you, I have had to put up with a small number of Twitter trolls who tweeted “Shame on you” and suggested I would make a very good “Protestant bishop”! I take it they have not read my homily (available on www.catholicbishops.ie).

Sad reality

The sad reality is, that many people looking in from outside the various Christian traditions, particularly in Ireland, see a history of division and sectarianism, of intolerance, mutual recriminations, and open hostility.

This is a source of scandal, and something that has dimmed the light of the Gospel. Christians here, of all denominations, share the responsibility of leading the way in transforming relationships here, and in healing the legacy and pain of our troubled past.

That is why I value my personal friendship with the other church leaders. It is founded on the reality that what unites us is so much greater than what divides us. We share the conviction that “God loved us first”, with His free gift of grace and merciful love.

Deeper understanding

I know how tempting it is – out of possessiveness, or even fear – to remain closed in on ourselves – wrapped in the cosy comfort-blanket of “the way we’ve always been”. Still, I would invite theologians from across our traditions, and not just at international, but at national level, to courageously explore and clarify those areas that merit deeper understanding and dialogue between us.

The role of religion and faith in Irish society, North and South, has clearly changed dramatically, but our wounded world needs so much to be enlightened by the Gospel. All around us we see people confused by the superficiality of what is on offer to them.

This time last year Pope Francis and the Lutheran Bishop Yunan encouraged Christians to set aside conflict and move towards the communion to which God continually calls us. I am convinced that we are being called to reconcile the Reformation and combine our efforts out of our “certain hope” for the world.

Archbishop Eamon is Catholic Primate of All Ireland.

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