To mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Clonard Monastery in West Belfast invited Rev Ken Newell, the retired minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian in Belfast, to speak at all its services yesterday. The invitation reflects Newell’s, and Fitzroy’s, long association with Clonard in the form of the Clonard-Fitzroy fellowship group.
Newell joked that he has been coming to Clonard longer than many of the Catholics who were attending the service, pointing out that he first came to Clonard in 1981.
Newell’s long-standing relationships with people at Clonard, and his impeccable, lived-out commitment to ecumenism over the years, enabled him to deliver a powerful message on the theme ‘What Does Communion Mean?’
You can watch a video of the Gospel reading, and Newell’s sermon, here. The Gospel relates the story of Jesus’ calling of the first disciples, fishermen who quickly left what they were doing to follow Jesus.
Newell reflects on that passage, emphasising that the fishermen brothers from Capernaum – Peter and Andrew; and James and John – had to leave prosperous and promising careers for Jesus’ sake. Then, they had to learn to get along with, and love, the once-hated tax collector Matthew. The following are excerpts from Newell’s sermon.
Ken Newell on ‘What Does Communion Mean?’
Jesus began to show them [Peter, Andrew, James and John] that they were all brothers, and even in the most unlikely people [Matthew] there are hidden treasures that Jesus can unlock.
… Jesus was teaching them about communion, with each other and with him. That the hands that must reach out to receive the body of Christ in the Eucharist are taken by Jesus … and expanded to reach out to the body of Christ in the other churches.
Now if there is a spiritual exercise I want you to take home that is revolutionary and life changing, here it is: when you reach out your hands in the Eucharist to take the body of Christ and draw it into yourself, automatically your hands will be stretched out to reach out to his body in all the other Christian churches. That’s the deal of the gospel, and that’s the story of the Christian faith.
… Peter discovered on the beach that day that the parochial spirit … was expanded by Jesus … Jesus [expanded Peter’s parochial spirit] … as wide as the new emerging universal church.
To be catholic is go be universal. … The heart of being catholic means the development and the expansion from the parochial to a universal heart. .. For Peter to be expanded he had to let something go …
If you don’t feel your Christian spirit to be expanding and to be reaching out to those of other Christian traditions in this city and in this country, I’m asking you is there something you need to let go to let Jesus expand your spirit?’
- Could it be fear? If I go there I’ll feel out of place and uncomfortable?
- … Could it be a hidden hurt, something was done to you in … your life? That someone from the other community put you down? And if they did can I apologise? From the bottom of my heart, for all the hurt and pain that my community has inflicted on yours, and on your church. … Is there a hurt there that you need to let go of?
- … Or is there in a back of your mind … a sense of pride … [that] I belong to a great big church, I’m not interested in these minnows? Well I’ll tell you something, Jesus is. Is there a pride that stops you connecting?
- … Or is there a feeling of indifference? … Why would I be interested in going to any other church or meeting any other people?
Jesus is not indifferent to our divisions and that’s why he prays for our unity.
I end with this radical truth at the very heart of our faith:
If tonight, you get down on your knees at your bedside and you say, our Father, who art in heaven; and if I get down by my bedside and pray to our Father in heaven, that means that we have one Father. Whatever church we come from.
Here’s the radical thing. If he’s our Father, what does that make us to each other? We are brothers and sisters. We are blood brothers and blood sisters through the cross. And when we make the sign of the cross we take up a lifestyle that is prepared to move out of a parish mentality and cross all the divisions that have separated Christians in this country for centuries.
We’re here to restore the family and bring it together again. We are here to win that battle. And friends, can I say to you, we’re not playing for a draw. And neither is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because communion means connecting.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.