‘It can be done!’
May 25, 2018
Archbishop visits Tobago
May 25, 2018

Relationship before religion

Children holding hands

One of our parish priests asked his former parishioner why she left the Church. Her answer was: “relationship before religion”. She was quite right. And quite Trinitarian too, for the Holy Trinity speaks of a communion of relationships among the Father, Son and Spirit. Richard Rohr speaks of the famous 15th century icon by the Russian painter Andrei Rublev as an artistic marvel that beckons invitation. The painting is really a depiction of Abraham welcoming three angels at the Oak of Mamre but is often seen as an icon of the Trinity. In the icon there is an open space in the middle, as if beckoning someone to enter, that is, us. To claim our Christian identity means to live in communion with one another.

One aspect of this communion is hospitality. Abraham was hospitable to the three strangers. The average person who has left the Catholic Church, invariably for one of the evangelical churches, gives a lack of hospitality as their first reason for leaving. They feel more welcomed in Open Bible and Pentecostal Churches.

Interestingly, the title of Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Harris’ last pastoral letter was Return to Hospitality. This implies hospitality is not something new to us; it enshrines the very way of Jesus and we need to return to it more purposefully.

Archbishop Anthony Pantin underscored the same point when he said, “Lay people will forgive priests any failing, except when they shout at them. That, they never forget.” Hospitality and gentleness engender good relationships; shouting and intemperateness will not. Nor will they win converts.

Living in communion implies making room for the stranger—the migrant, the refugee. This of course must be done hand in hand with common sense. We trust our Ministry of National Security will closely monitor illegal immigrants to our shores since some of them come with evil intentions; some are undoubtedly caught up in the drugs/arms trade and human trafficking, but most are not. Most are seeking a better way of life and struggling to send money home for their families.

Our institutional memory is hospitality for Jesus always shared His table with others; our national memory is generosity for we have a long tradition of opening our doors to others. Archbishop Jason Gordon’s call for proactive, refugee-sensitive parishes is therefore consistent with a Trinitarian ethic.

Trinitarian communion also includes a proper relationship with the earth. Care for the earth, especially the Caribbean earth in the light of several devastating hurricanes in neighbouring islands, is the theme of the upcoming Caribbean Theology Conference to be held in Paramaribo, Suriname in June.

The theme is dear to the heart of Bishop Emeritus Anthony Dixon of Bridgetown, Barbados, who has written and spoken on it extensively. Bishop Clyde Harvey of St George’s, Grenada and Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica—two islands that have been devastated by hurricanes—will be making presentations on the topic. The conference has generated its own genre of kindred relationships among scholars, theologians and pastoral workers in the region and beyond.

Healthy relationships is the key to happy living and, as St Thérèse of Lisieux wisely notes, “God is not interested in perfection; God is interested in relationships”.