A bit of mystery was resolved for me when I came across a hagiography of St. Giles the other day.
“St. Who?”, you say. And that’s precisely my point: I don’t believe I’d ever heard of the man until we landed in Edinburgh on the 4th of July, and took up temporary residence in a flat just across the plaza from that city’s iconic St. Giles Cathedral.
Giles, it turns out, was a holy hermit who lived in the 700s. He fled his native Athens and took up residence in a forested region of southern France where—legend has it—he befriended deer and was once wounded by a royal hunting party shooting arrows into the thicket.
But truth be told, I’m a bit more intrigued by the building named after him in Scotland’s capital city than by the holy man himself. When we toured the cathedral, we learned that parts of the building –including four massive pillars near its center – date to the 1100s.
In other words, the cathedral had been standing for about 400 years before John Knox and his compatriots succeeded in claiming it as the ‘Mother Church of Presbyterianism.’
As I stood inside the cathedral that day, and meditated on the massive structural pillars at its core, I remember being sadden by the disunity they had now come to symbolize. One church…no longer one, no longer in full communion.
Jesus seems to promise as much in the Gospel reading we hear at Mass today.
Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple…”
I don’t pretend to understand all the social, political and religious dynamics that led John Knox to break away from the one church back in the 1500s…or that keep us Christians separated from each other today. Perhaps it’s fitting that St. Giles—patron of the impenetrable forest thicket—is invoked to stand watch over the High Kirk.
I am moved, however, by the memory of my visit to the cathedral—moved to pray as Jesus did that ‘we all might be one.’
I am humbled, too, by words we encounter in the reading from Wisdom today:
Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans…
…who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.