Tribalism And The Churches


Sir, - Congratulations on a really excellent article by Patsy McGarry on the role of religion in the Northern conflict and in similar situations around the world (Weekend, July 7th). It is generally recognised that the conflict is not primarily religious; it is far more complex. But we must admit that the religious dimension and the scandal of our divided Christianity have exacerbated the divisions.

Christianity began as a movement, centred on Jesus, his teaching, his Eucharist, and the power of his Holy Spirit. But with increasing numbers it had to develop into an institution in order to survive, and without the institution we would have no sacred scripture, no sacraments, no ministers, indeed no Church.

But there is a price to be paid for this. An institution is naturally conservative (preserving its heritage and tradition), more or less passive (yielding to influences from outside), fearful (lest it lose face, control, power or possessions), anxious and careful (guarding its boundaries), and all of these traits can blunt the charismatic thrust of the Church as a movement of the Spirit. All of our divided churches bear these same characteristics, which prevent us from coming together to discover how much we have in common. If we were closer to Christ and his gospel, we would be much closer to each other.

Mr McGarry asks some hard-hitting questions to disturb our Christian conscience, but they have the ring of truth. They are questions we should all have been asking ourselves for years. Do we really believe in forgiveness, do we practise it? Is it at the centre of our faith, as it is in the gospel? Would any of our churches strike an outsider as an incarnation of the Good Samaritan described by Jesus?

Many years ago a priest was celebrating the Eucharist for an ecumenical prayer group when he saw a non-Catholic couple approach for Communion. He knew they believed in the sacrament as much as he did himself, but he was nervous because of the church law forbidding it. To avoid an embarrassing scene, he gave them the sacrament. He had scruples afterwards and told his bishop about the dilemma. He explained that the solution came to him the moment he asked himself: "What would Jesus do?" The bishop's answer was a shocked whisper: "Good God, you didn't, did you?"

Of course it is only a story, but all our churches would be more truly Christian if we would ask ourselves that question more often and really listen for an answer - an answer inspired by the Holy Spirit and by the example of the Samaritan praised by Jesus. - Yours, etc.,

Father Seβn Fagan, S.M., Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2.