Circles of faith

Some years ago I found myself on a hill on the north side of Paris where the basilica of Sacré Coeur was built in gratitude for the deliverance of the city in 1870.

Mass was being celebrated for perhaps 100 people on the main altar and on the periphery of this group there were people walking around admiring the art and decoration of the large building. Outside there were crowds of people sitting on the steps having their picnics in the sun and admiring the view of the city below.

It is an image that can serve as a reflection of the concentric circles of faith common in our world. The visible worshipping and praying people have a place at the centre of the human community. This does not make them better or more holy than others but they do have the function of being a channel of life, which we often call the grace of God, for the world.

They form a sort of inner circle. Outside of them is a much larger circle made up of good and dedicated people who give their lives for the truth in many different ways – teachers, journalists, doctors, scholars, etc – but who do not explicitly acknowledge the presence of God in the world though their lives are often a testimony of that presence.

Then on the outside, the largest circle, there are the many who just get on with life doing the best they can but not particularly dedicating themselves to anything. They just want to live their own lives and they give an occasional nod in the direction of the heart of the universe, which is God, but without any kind of real involvement.

Such an image comes to me as we approach the anniversary of the pope’s visit to Britain last September. For some reason it appeared on our screens here in Zimbabwe and many people were quite moved by it. At the centre were the religious ceremonies which were attended by hundreds of thousands.

They were times of prayer, thanks and a celebration of faith. But there were millions of others watching on their TVs, many of whom were just curious and some of whom started off resentful that public money should be spent of the security of this quaint visitor.

By all accounts this second group warmed to Benedict and recognised in him a man who stood for weighty values in an age when the media suggests people can choose what they like with scant reference to them.

And finally there were those who frankly had no time for the pope and all he stands for but who were still impressed by his words, for example, in Westminster Hall when he praised Britain for so often upholding justice and democracy.

These are the concentric circles of faith, strong at the centre and almost unnoticeable at the edges – like the ripples in a disturbed pond. Whether we acknowledge it or not we are caught up in the great drama of a world ‘charged,’ as the poet Hopkins wrote, ‘with the grandeur of God.’

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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