A Horror of Hell and the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity

The title of this post is deliberately ambiguous. I am in fact referring to two separate but related things: one of the tools of good works cited in today’s passage of the Rule of St Benedict, RB 4.45, and this week of the year when we Christians devoutly pray for unity. Let me explain.

Today’s section of the Rule is concerned with judgement — how we shall be judged on the Last Day, how we are to motivate ourselves to keep guard over the actions of our life, how we are to understand God’s watchful presence in our lives, and so on and so forth. For me it is a powerful reminder that Christian unity is not an optional extra but an obligatory part of being a Christian. The trouble is we all understand different things by unity, and therein lies the challenge.

As a Catholic, I subscribe to the teachings of the Catholic Church without reservation.  I don’t find all of them easy, and there are certainly some that I consider to be more important than others (a hierarchy of truths in operation, if you like). But the essential thing is that I try to understand the Church as the Church understands herself because I believe that to be key to understanding Christ. Therefore, the first kind of unity I seek and aim at is the unity of the Church to which I belong. I am always trying to improve my own knowledge and understanding so become uncomfortable when self-appointed guardians of the Faith hurl accusations at those they consider to be less ‘orthodox’ or less ‘compassionate’ than themselves. I am inclined to follow Benedict’s lead in believing that correction should only be given by those with authority to do so, i.e. those appointed. Sadly, I find many of those wanting to set others right online are themselves ill-informed. This makes for a disunity that is like a slow poison in the system — not helped by the fact that Google is not able to distinguish between truth, half-truth and fiction!

Another kind of unity I aim at is unity with all my fellow Christians, not at the institutional level, but at the practical level of prayer and charity. Many readers of this blog will recognize themselves in my designation of ‘online friends’ and know, I trust, how highly I value them and their insights. iBenedictines is evidence of the way in which we can share ideas, concerns and prayer for one another in a spirit of mutual respect and honest engagement.

It is when we come to the question of institutional unity between the Churches that we face the biggest gulfs in understanding. I naturally look to Orthodoxy first, but I know that for many of my fellow countrymen, Orthodox Christianity is something of an exotic of which they have no first-hand experience. Then there are all the infinite varieties of Anglicanism and Protestantism. Very often we assume that because we say the same (or similar) words, and do the same (or similar) actions, we believe the same things, yet that is patently not so. Again, I think ecclesiology is fundamental to understanding these differences and their importance, but ecclesiology is hard work and most of us, if we are honest, are inclined to avoid hard work if we can. So, we settle for something less arduous although still demanding in its own way. At the back of our minds, however, is that nagging imperative, the prayer of Christ himself for the unity of his Body, the Church, and the need to understand and attain that unity in the way that Christ intends rather than as we ourselves might choose.

As we work to maintain the unity of the Church to which we belong, as we work to deepen the practical unity of all Christians, let us not forget the need also to work towards that third kind of unity. It is not a light matter that we undertake. We may prefer not to think about heaven and hell, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, nor that our conduct will not one day be weighed by our loving and merciful God.

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Care of the Elderly

The latest report into N.H.S. care of the elderly is pretty damning, but before we all raise our hands in horror/point the finger or whatever other cliché is appropriate to manifest disgust, we should ask how we treat the elderly ourselves.

It is possible to romanticise care of the elderly. The white-haired grandma or grandpa, sitting quietly in a rocking chair and dispensing wisdom and kindness to everyone, is, more often than not, a fiction. We don’t associate such figures with the frailty, querulousness, and smelliness of old age which is the reality. Anyone who has cared for a very old person over a long stretch of time will know the tiredness and guilt that such care often imposes on the carer. It is complicated further when the care must be given in cramped conditions, with lack of understanding or downright hostility to contend with from other members of the family. If we don’t do all that brilliantly at home, should we expect any better in hospital, which is not, after all, meant for long-term care but for getting people better as quickly as possible?

Perhaps the real problem is not so much the failures that have been highlighted in N.H.S. hospitals as the attitudes of society in general to the elderly. Respect nowadays has to be earned. In Benedict’s day, it was accorded automatically. Unless we genuinely respect others and see in them the person God has created and redeemed, I think we all run the danger of seeing the elderly as a nuisance, a drag, not worth bothering about. That is a chilling thought.

If nothing else, I’m not sure I would want to stand before God on Judgement Day and say I found any of his children ‘not worth bothering about’, would you?

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