Saint Agnes, a teenage martyr who died in the year 305. Having consecrated her life to God, Agnes was denounced as a Christian to the pagan authorities in Rome. After refusing to renounce her faith Agnes was tortured and then beheaded; her body was buried on the Via Nomentana, in a cemetery named in her honour. Saint Agnes is held up to all young people as an example of fidelity as they seek to follow Christ.
On the night before he died Our Lord prayed that all his followers might be one, but he was aware of divisions among those who professed his name just as he was of the loaves of bread blessed, broken and given to more than 5,000 people. Our Lord himself was the victim of division: his relatives said he was mad and the religious leaders accused him of being an agent of the Devil. And yet Our Lord continued to heal those who were divided within themselves. He continued to work for the unity of his closest followers, divided as they were by personal ambitions, political loyalties and various self-interests. With divine common sense, Our Lord argued that a house that is divided simply cannot stand.
We stand back from the Gospel and we recognize that the petty divisions among Christians can only have a destructive impact. Far from endearing people to Christianity the divisions among Christians continue to put people off.
It must be more than a quarter of a century now since Cardinal Basil Hume commented on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity saying that the time for talking is over and the time for action has come. And here we are still talking and avoiding the real issues and going nowhere. Is it any wonder faith is so diminished in this country and so many parish churches are empty on Sunday?
I suppose the only thing we can do is pray and ask God for a miracle. It seems to be part and parcel of human nature to divide and destroy, and 2000 years of history has shown that Christians are not immune to that human trait. We will never achieve the unity of Christians, at least not until we come to realise that the only division we can accept is that which enriches everyone. Just as with the loaves Our Lord divided among the 5,000, so we must pray that our efforts will multiply as we divide them with others.