As war rages between two “Christian” nations, leaders of the divided Churches cannot credibly talk about peace if they continue to exclude one another from the Eucharist.
As I write this the war news gets grimmer by the day. We have gone in the space of a few weeks from ‘it could not happen’ to ‘not in 2022!’ to ‘is there no respect for life – much less for self-determination – in Putin’s vision?’
Meanwhile, many of us are discovering just how little of the geography of the Ukraine we knew and are saddened that knowing the names of the suburbs of Kyiv and the of towns like Mariupol is but a grim index of human inhumanity.
“Homo homini lupus”
With every passing hour the number of deaths in that war, the images of human suffering, and the wanton destruction grows. It challenges us as human beings, as Europeans and as Christians.
Meanwhile, many – but, sadly, not all – religious leaders are seeking media space to condemn aggressive war and the trampling of frontiers, to encourage us to pray for peace, and, often, to point out that so many in both Russia and Ukraine claim the name of Christian and declare themselves to be followers of him whom we greet as the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6).One Loaf / One People “Though many, we are one body because we all share in the one loaf” (1 Cor 10:17) – we need to show this unity in sacramentally.
Words are cheap
But there is a problem with these Christian leaders calling for dialogue, their awareness of common values of respect and co-operation, and their presentation of a vision of peace.
What if these leaders were presented with a request from one of their communities that it invite some other Christians – who do not share the same ecclesial or theological background – to their Eucharistic meal? What would these leaders then say about common roots, common values, and a common destiny?
With deepest regret I have to acknowledge that these same Church leaders would be quite strident in their willingness to build up walls of exclusion, to note dividing and unbridgeable chasms, and even to suggest that their ideal union of sisters and brothers in Christ could only come about by the complete absorption by them of another Church.
In the ecclesiology of these leaders – now rightly clamoring that Christian sisters and brothers make peace and build bonds of love – the ideal unity for which Jesus prayed (Jn 17:21) can only come about if another community is like a wayward province which has to be forced back into subjection.
Or it can only come when that degree of harmony is reached which they know to be impossible except at the eschaton!
Being prophetic vs. using dissonant language
Preaching prophetically can be difficult but we are called also to act prophetically.
If we use the language of division and the practice of separation at the Lord’s table – which is, after all, the very expression of our unity in the Anointed One (1 Cor 10:17) – then using the language of peace when looking outwards is undermined as inauthentic.
The urgency of the human situation which needs models of people transcending division and selfishness demands that we model this in our very core: at the table that recalls the table-fellowship of Jesus who scandalously created unity out of division (e.g. Lk 15:2) and the table of our human destiny when people will come from north and south and east and west to rejoice in peace (Lk 13:29).
We need to model peace and communion
A Church leader, no matter how eminent in title, who is unwilling to actually model with his/her sisters and brothers in baptism the unity in the one loaf and one cup (1 Cor 10:14-7) cannot with integrity preach or witness peace and community to a fractured, suffering world.
In addition to common statements and pleadings that point out that war is sacrilegious, we need to demonstrate that we, the baptized, can actually share at the Lord’s Table.
This would manifest reconciliation, show that what unites us is greater than what separates us, and model sacramentally our vocation in Jesus.
Many Church leaders who are happy to add their names to statements might find that actually sharing the loaf and cup with a brother just too difficult!
If we cannot solve this division – and stop our unbloody war (bellum incruore) — what hope is there that we that we can offer anything to those who make bloody war?
Embracing is not enough: the time has come to show their unity in the sacrament of unity.
Imagine Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Pope Francis of Rome sharing fully that the Lord’s Table by eating and drinking as brothers in the Lord!
Imagine Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury doing likewise!
If you cannot imagine that, then you should not be surprised that shells are falling – with a perverse “Christian” benediction – on Mariupol.
Our fresh embrace of one another in Eucharistic fellowship – humbly sharing in the Loaf and Cup – is the euangellion, the Botschaft, the Hope, the Gaudium Magnum that suffering humanity needs to see right now.
Thomas O’Loughlin is a presbyter of the Catholic Diocese of Arundel and Brighton and professor-emeritus of historical theology at the University of Nottingham (UK). His latest book is Eating Together, Becoming One: Taking Up Pope Francis’s Call to Theologians (Liturgical Press, 2019).
With thanks to Thomas O’Loughlin and La Croix International, where this article originally appeared.