On January 17, 2015, the Archdiocese of Vancouver sponsored a Symposium on Christian Unity, titled Have We Answered the Call?, at St. Francis Xavier Church, in honour of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, of Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation, gave the keynote address titled The Decree on Ecumenism: 50 Years Later. In part 3 of his address, Fr. Rosica concludes his lecture by focusing on Pope Francis and his movement toward total Christian Unity, a process that requires time and patience.
We must live in the present moment of communion that already exists among us but which is still not a full or perfect communion. It is an intermediate situation between the “already” and the “not yet”. Full communion in the complete sense can therefore be only an eschatological hope. Here on earth the church will always be a pilgrim church struggling with tensions, schisms and apostasy.
We need to fan the flames of a new ecumenical enthusiasm. But this does not mean devising unrealistic utopias of the future. Instead of staring at the impossible, and cursing it, we have to live the already given and possible communio, and do what is possible today. Patience is the younger sister of Christian hope.
Ecumenism of Pope Francis
A central image of the Christian life for Pope Francis is the movement toward Christian unity – a movement that happens one step at a time. For Francis, it is not about waiting for others to catch up with us. It is about everyone continuing to walk with and toward the Lord, supporting and learning from the brothers and sisters whom God places on the same path. The deeper we all grow in holiness, the closer we will be to one another.
While Francis’ gestures are new, and even disconcerting to some, the idea of growth in unity being the result of growth in fidelity to Christ is not. The unity we seek requires inner conversion that is both common and personal. It is not merely a matter of cordiality, or good cooperation, it is necessary above all to strengthen our faith in God, in the God of Jesus Christ, who spoke to us and took on our flesh and blood in the incarnation.
Two months after his election to the See of Peter, in his daily homily in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae on May 13, 2013, Francis stressed the courageous attitude of St. Paul in the Areopagus, when, in speaking to the Athenian crowd, the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to build bridges to proclaim the Gospel. Francis called Paul’s attitude one that “seeks dialogue” and is “closer to the heart” of the listener. The Pope said that this is the reason why St. Paul was a real pontifex: a “builder of bridges and not of walls.” The Pope went on to say that this makes us think of the attitude that a Christian ought always to have.
“A Christian must proclaim Jesus Christ in such a way that He be accepted: received, not refused – and Paul knows that he has to sow the Gospel message. …Paul does not say to the Athenians: ‘This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth.’ No! The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter – it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. We receive the truth when we meet it.”
The Pope warned that, “Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ.” The Pope exhorted Christians to do as Paul did and begin to “build bridges and to move forward.”
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio, we recall the words that Pope Francis shared in the Holy Sepulcher with the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on May 25, 2014 in their recommitment to, and anticipation of, full sacramental unity:
“Clearly we cannot deny the divisions which continue to exist among us, the disciples of Jesus: this sacred place makes us even more painfully aware of how tragic they are. …our disagreements must not frighten us and paralyze our progress. We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so too every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed. This will be a grace of resurrection, of which we can have a foretaste even today. Every time we ask forgiveness of one another for our sins against other Christians and every time we find the courage to grant and receive such forgiveness, we experience the resurrection! Every time we put behind us our longstanding prejudices and find the courage to build new fraternal relationships, we confess that Christ is truly risen! Every time we reflect on the future of the Church in the light of her vocation to unity, the dawn of Easter breaks forth! Here I reiterate the hope already expressed by my predecessors for a continued dialogue with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, aimed at finding a means of exercising the specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome which, in fidelity to his mission, can be open to a new situation and can be, in the present context, a service of love and of communion acknowledged by all (cf. John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, 95-96).
The 50th anniversary of the Vatican II Decree on Christian Unity is a moment to encourage new vision and to renew our determination that “all may be one.” We have indeed answered the call given to the Church and the churches over 50 years ago. But it is a call that continues to echo in our minds and hearts and we must continue to answer the Lord’s call each day. May the Lord rouse us even more in these days, as we are inspired by the current Bishop of Rome to work for the unity of the Church of Jesus Christ in the world. May the same Spirit that worked wonders at the Second Vatican Council send us “into the deep” so that the world may be converted to the Gospel and so be saved, to the glory of God.
I share this dream with you at the end of my presentation. It was written by a great Ecumenist, colleague and friend, Paulist Fr. Thomas Ryan in his book A Survival Guide for Ecumenically Minded Christians [Novalis 1989]:
Waiting for the day when the Spirit will make us one…
When God puts us back together again
with the aid of our willingness to cooperate
this great church will be marked by
the dignity and scholarship of the Anglicans,
the order and sacraments of the Roman Catholics,
the warm fellowship of the Methodists,
the Presbyterian desire for good preaching,
and the Lutheran respect for sound theology.
There will be the Baptist concern for individual salvation,
the Congregational respect for the rights of the lay members,
the Pentecostal reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit,
and the Quaker appreciation for silence.
We will find there the Mennonite sense of community,
the social action of the Salvation army,
and the Reformed love of the bible
all wrapped in Orthodox reverence
before the mystery of God.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada and serves as English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office.