Sunday at St. Salvator’s in Scotland: a time for interreligious reflection

St Andrews, Scotland—No one might expect that a short trip to Scotland would generate more than one posting, but I cannot resist a brief report to supplement Saturday’s post.

I had gone to the 5 p.m. Mass at St. James on Saturday, in the rather small cathedral a little distant from the center of town (a size and location in part due to Reformation era disputes). Then, on Sunday morning, I joined in the Sunday service at St. Salvator's Chapel, the University Church at St. Andrews. In this very lovely settin, 100 to 150 people gathered for the reading of scripture, prayers and the singing of anthems and hymns led by the very fine choir. Rev. Dr. Donald MacEwen presided.

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My part in the service was to give the sermon, on the familiar but stark Gospel that begins this way:

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. (Luke 16:19-22)

This was a strikingly mundane Gospel for a time of interreligious reflection: no great theme, no talk of all coming together, no good example by Jesus of crossing the barriers between Jews and Gentiles; not even a global crisis or expectation of some larger global change. Just a too ordinary scene: a man who had everything, and a poor man who had nothing, the stranger at the gate. The rich man knew about Lazarus, saw him every time he came and went from his palace; he even knew his name. But he did nothing. Perhaps then it is a truly universal insight, a story of sheer (in)humanity, obtuseness and neglect, the banal ability we have to distance ourselves not only from the great crises of the day, but from the person very nearby who needs our help. Jesus holds up to us the way we can be, in our ordinary neglect of one another.

The rest of the Gospel is really just a recounting of the rich man’s efforts to negotiate a better prospect for himself or at least for his brothers. Abraham gently but firmly disabuses him of this hope: you had much in your life on earth, and now you have nothing; Lazarus had nothing, and now he is the blessed one. We, of course, are the real audience of the parable, whoever we may be, from whatever culture or religion, are challenged to pay attention to what is close by. But how do we, who have the law and the prophets, and Jesus who rose from the dead, as teachers on this, but do not always pay attention (16:29-31) become the kinds of people who act differently, better? The clue, I suggested, was in the chosen first reading from Micah 6: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8b) Again in a way that potentially has great interreligious meaning, we are invited to learn to be different people, deep-down: to walk humbly with God, who graciously walks with us; to love God’s loving kindness, which we have received so bountifully; and then to be able to be just and do justice now, and for the needy person right next to us.

Particularly fitting was that Reverend MacEwan and the director of the choir had chosen hymns perfectly suited to these readings: one echoing the words of Rev Martin Luther King, another from Malawi (“Tiza pantazi pinu, “Humbly in your sight we come together”), and a third, a hymn by Sydney Bertram Carter, which again highlights the interreligious perspective. It begins this way:

When I needed a neighbour
Were you there, were you there?
When I needed a neighbour
Were you there?
And the creed and the colour
And the name won't matter
Were you there?

I was hungry and thirsty
Were you there, were you there?
I was hungry and thirsty
Were you there?
And the creed and the colour
And the name won't matter
Were you there?

After the service, there was the traditional pier walk, as a group of about 50 from the congregation, some in regalia, walked down to the pier by the ruined medieval abbey and cathedral. Since there will be a follow-up signing of the document in India next June, prayers looking toward India were recited by the sea, right at the place where, it is said, the relics of St. Andrew were brought ashore by St. Rule, over a thousand years ago.

After this, I had lunch with Reverend MacEwen and members of the student interfaith steering group, a wonderful group of dedicated and energetic young people seeking how to remain committed to their faith in a way that is socially responsible and interreligiously attentive in today’s global society. I spent Sunday in Edinburgh in a visit to the theology faculty and the Centre for the Study of World Christianity.

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William Rydberg
1 year ago
One trusts that as a Senior Jesuit Father, you took time to emphasize that while the message of the Parable was instructive, what really made it was the fact that Jesus-God come in the flesh taught this authoritatively to his disciples. For Jesus' Gospel has always been spread through the Holy Spirit and Power, not through elegant speech (at least, according to St Paul the Apostle). And not a few Popes and Jesuit Preachers. in Christ, Vivat Jesus!
Robert Ferrier
1 year ago
St.James' Church, that you refer to at the beginning of the article, is a normal Catholic parish Church in the town of St. Andrews, and is part of the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Andrew's and Edinburgh. The cathedral is St.Mary's Metropolitan Cathedral, Broughton Street, Edinburgh. However, St. James' is a beautiful church sat on a cliff top, along the road from the sacked medieval cathedral. The Third Marques of Bute had hoped to return it to Catholic worship, something that would have given great glory to God, and something for which we in Scotland pray.
Francis X. Clooney
1 year ago

Mr Ferrier - thanks for the correction, that the Cathedral is in Edinburgh, Fr Clooney

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