The thirty-first of January is eventually here, and Brexit day has arrived. The day, that many of us thought would be deferred indefinitely has come and Britain formally breaks with the European Union. A lot of ink has been spilt about the various pros and cons of Britain leaving the European Union. I do not want to repeat the arguments here one way or another. What interests me, and what I think has been all too frequently overlooked is the spiritual dimension to this whole debacle. Again, I’m not wishing to comment on the actual act of Brexit, but rather the role and behaviour of Christians, and Catholic’s in particular in light of our Brexit-reality. I have been struck in recent weeks and months by the polarization and quite frankly the venom in which people have treated and spoken to each other on both sides of the Brexit debate. Social media it seems, has been utilised to create panic-narratives about what Britain will look like if and when we leave the EU. What is striking is the lack of basic charity with which people treat others who have an opposing view. Both sides, have been guilty of demonising the other. What is more, it appears (at least from my social media feeds) that many Catholics and other Christians have been guilty of this behaviour as well. The run up to the general election seemed to exacerbate the poisonous attitudes either side of the Brexit debate. Whether one is a Brexiteer or a Remainer is not really issue. My concern is that in the heat of debate people have forgotten their common humanity and amongst Christians, their common baptism.
The Catholic Church is unique amongst Christian churches in that it is not a national Church, but a universal Church whose members are incorporated into its body through the waters of Baptism. Furthermore, the source and summit of Catholic faith, life and worship is the Mass, the central component being: Holy Communion. Communion is everything. The word Communion comes to us via Latin roots and means amongst other things: “participation in something; that which is common to all, union in religious worship, doctrine or discipline. Also, from Old French Comunion – [meaning] community, unity, fellowship - mutual participation, sharing.” (From the Online Etymology Dictionary)
Communion is the key to unlocking the Catholic faith. A Catholic is Baptised and Confirmed into the Communion of the Church. When a Catholic receives Holy Communion he or she is publicly professing full-communion with all the members Catholic Church on earth, in purgatory and in heaven. This sacramental communion is a deep union with Jesus who is personally present in his Body, Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion. For a Catholic, the reception of Holy Communion should ratify this communion with God and neighbour but it also does something else, it demands of the person receiving Communion to become a person of communion, and agent of communion if you will, within the context of their daily lives. This is why we are ‘sent out’ at the end of Mass. In Holy Communion we become what we receive, and we are sent out, nourished by God, with God, to transform the world around us. In our consumerist culture there is danger of a consumerist attitude towards our faith, and when this occurs we can treat the Eucharist in the same consumerist way and forget this profound truth: That Holy Communion makes demands of us!
“Community, unity, fellowship – mutual participation” – whatever happens in our country post-Brexit, this is what our divided and polarised country needs and Catholic Christians have an important role to play. My prayer is that as a Church in Britain, we will remember our call to communion and work hard to build God’s kingdom amongst all people whatever circumstances life (and government!) throws at us. I pray that we can learn to disagree with each other well.
I believe that people generally want the best for our country and our common home - we may have opposing views about how this can come about but our shared goal at least, is a shared hope and a point of unity.
As Catholics my prayer is that we become ever more a people of communion in our workplaces, homes, schools and families. The world needs us to be the people that we profess to be and the saints that God calls us to be, so let’s get on with it!
Finally, paraphrasing St Paul, I pray that we remember that: there is neither Remainer nor Brexiteer, neither Labour nor Tory, nor is there Right or Left, for we are all One in Christ Jesus. Amen.