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On the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz “A Hand of Peace: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust”

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Today on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau German Nazi Concentration in Poland, let us recall one of the great figures in world history who quietly assisted hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Nazi reign of terror and evil. For decades, the figure of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, has been at the center of some volatile polemics. The controversy has raged over whether the Pope did and said enough in defense of the Jews and other victims of the Nazis. The Roman Pontiff who guided the Church through the terrible years of the Second World War and the Cold War is the victim of a “black legend,” which has proven difficult to combat and is so widespread that many consider it to be more true than the actual historical facts.

Popes do not speak with the idea of pre-constituting a favourable image for future ages. They know that the fate of millions of Christians can at times depend on their every word; they have at heart the fate of men and women of flesh and blood, not the applause or fleeting approval of historians.

Let us remember some key facts about this man’s story and about history. Pope Pius XII led the Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958. Immediately before his election, the then-Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was the Vatican Secretary of State. He, more than anyone else in the Vatican, knew what was happening in the world. Pius XII was not only the Pope of the Second World War, but a pastor who, from March 2, 1939, to October 9, 1958, had before him a world at war during very troubled times.

Those who attack Pius XII often do so for ideological reasons. The campaign against him was started in the Soviet Union and was then sustained in various Catholic environments. He took sides against the Communist world in a severe, strong and determined way. In such a way that we had to wait 30 years, until the Polish Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope, for that style to be taken up properly in a way that was fatal for Communism.

The black legend swirling around Pacelli took shape in the bitter controversies over the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and was manipulated by forces on both sides. Pacelli cannot be the person who is blamed for something that belongs in a complex way to the world community.

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From the beginning, Hitler and his closest followers were motivated by a pathological hatred for the Catholic Church, which they appraised correctly as the most dangerous opponent to what they hoped to do in Germany. There was radical divergence between the Nazis and the Catholic Church.

Pope Pius XII was not concerned for his reputation, but with saving Jewish lives and this was the only just decision, which clearly required wisdom and a great amount of courage. The Pope protested vehemently the persecution of Jews, but he explained in 1943 that he could not speak in more dramatic or public terms without the risk of making things much worse than they were. His was a prophecy in action, which saved the lives of countless victims of the neo-pagan Nazi reign of terror, rather than potentially counter-productive public statements.

During the Second World War, and up until five years after his death, Pius XII was greatly praised by many Jewish organizations, chief Rabbis of diverse countries and especially from the United States. Robert Kempner, a Jewish lawyer and public official at the Nüremberg trials, wrote in 1964, after the appearance of Rolf Hochhuth’s “The Deputy”: “Any propagandistic position that the Church would have taken against Hitler’s government would have not only provoked suicide… but it would have hastened the execution of still more Jews and priests.”

One of the unpleasant “secondary” consequences of this black legend that falsely portrays Pope Pius XII as indulgent toward Nazism and indifferent to the fate of the victims of persecution has been to sideline or even obliterate the extraordinary teaching of this Pope who was a precursor of the Second Vatican Council. Pius XII must be remembered for his encyclical on the liturgy, his reform of the rites of Holy Week – the great preparatory work that would flow into the conciliar liturgical reform.

It is the same Pope who, in the encyclical “Humani Generis,” takes evolutionary theory into consideration. Pius XII also gave notable impetus to missionary activity with the encyclicals “Evangelii Praecones,” in 1951, and “Fidei Donum,” in 1957, highlighting the Church’s duty to proclaim the Gospel to the nations, as Vatican II would amply reaffirm.

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Papa Pacelli opened up the application of the historical-critical method to the Bible, and in the encyclical “Divino Afflante Spiritu,” established the doctrinal norms for the study of Sacred Scripture, emphasizing the importance of its role in Christian life. After Sacred Scripture, the Council’s documents cite no single author as frequently as Pope Pius XII.

Since Pacelli’s death the Church has taken great strides in forging closer relations with the Jewish faith. Pope John Paul II made Jewish-Christian relations a priority of his pontificate. He repeatedly defended the actions of Pope Pius XII while at the same time spoke of the silence and inaction of some Catholics during the Holocaust.

On Friday August 19, 2005, I was present in the historic Synagogue on Cologne’s Roonstraße as Pope Benedict XVI addressed the large assembly. In his moving address, Benedict XVI, the German Pope who grew up during the Second World War, spoke these words to the Jewish community of Cologne and representatives of Judaism in Germany, returning in spirit the meeting that took place in Mainz, Germany on November 17, 1980 between Pope John Paul II and members of the Central Jewish Committee in Germany and the Rabbinic Conference.

Benedict said:

“And in the 20th century, in the darkest period of German and European history, an insane racist ideology, born of neo-paganism, gave rise to the attempt, planned and systematically carried out by the regime, to exterminate European Jewry. The result has passed into history as the Shoah.

…I make my own the words written by my venerable Predecessor on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and I too say: “I bow my head before all those who experienced this manifestation of the mysterium iniquitatis. ” The terrible events of that time must “never cease to rouse consciences, to resolve conflicts, to inspire the building of peace” (Message for the Liberation of Auschwitz, 15 January 2005).

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Then in New York City on April 28, 2008, the Park East synagogue gave Pope Benedict XVI a warm welcome. The visit on the eve of Passover, the Jewish holiday marking the exodus from Egypt, was only the third by a pope to a Jewish house of worship after Benedict’s visit to the Cologne Synagogue in 2005, and Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Rome synagogue in 1986.

Pope Benedict XVI ended his warm address to the Jewish assembly with these words: “I encourage all of you to continue building bridges of friendship with all the many different ethnic and religious groups present in your neighborhood.”

This Papal path from the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City to Rome’s Synagogue, Cologne’s Synagogue and New York’s Park East Synagogue was opened by Eugenio Pacelli’s heroism, courage and prophetic gestures during a dark period of world history. Pacelli has been called many names. He was also known as the “Pastor Angelicus” and “Defensor Civitatis.” He is now a Servant of God, on the path to Beatification and Canonization in the Catholic Church.

It is our hope that the Salt and Light Television documentary “A Hand of Peace: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust” sheds light and truth on this great man’s life, prophetic actions, courageous words and his significant contribution to humanity. Let us learn from his example as we extend our hands and arms in gestures of friendship and peace to the men and women of our time. Let us continue to build bridges of justice and peace to the many different ethnic and religious groups around us.

Speaking the Word of God with Authority

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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – February 1, 2015

At the beginning of Mark’s story of the Son of God, we read of the calling of the first disciples (1:16-20) and the confrontation with evil (1:21-28). The calling, influenced by the compelling calls of the prophets (e.g., Isaiah 6:1-13; Jeremiah 1:14-19), is a model of discipleship. Jesus is not a solitary prophet but one who calls companions “to be with him;” he enters the lives of four people engaged in their ordinary occupations, simply says, “Follow me,” and they immediately leave everything to follow him.

The story of Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue inaugurates the first day of his ministry that consists of exorcisms and healings. The story reflects contemporary Jewish thought that the coming of God’s kingdom would mark the defeat of evil, which is personified in an array of demons and unclean spirits. Jesus’ word is so powerful that people abandon their occupations and follow him, and even demonic powers are powerless before it. Jesus summons people to a change of heart, to take a new look at their lives and put their trust in the good news. This is not simply a story from the past, but one that continues to speak powerfully and prophetically to people today.

On this Fourth Sunday of Ordinary time, both the first reading (Deuteronomy 18:15-20) and the Gospel (Mark 1:21-28) raise the issue of the authority of those who speak the Word of God. Authentic prophets taught with authority because God put his own words into their mouths. In the first reading, Moses tells the people that God will send a prophet from the line of the Israelites. God commands everyone to listen to this prophet, who we come to recognize as Jesus.

Jesus astonishes the people in the Capernaum synagogue with his teaching and authority. He taught with authority because he is the living Word of God. We are all witnesses to this living Word who is Jesus. We have no authority of our own; we simply proclaim his Word. Each member of the Church, by virtue of baptism and confirmation, has a prophetic role, and echoes the Word of God himself, both by words and example. We must walk our talk!

Two of the most misused and misunderstood words in our day are “prophet” and “prophetic.” In the popular mind, prophets fall into some well-worn stereotypes, always standing outside, protesting the system. They might be dressed poorly, shouting out and embarrassing the polite and the elite! For many such prophets, anger seems to be a signature emotion.

Yet in the Bible, prophecy often looks very different. There were certainly those lone prophets like Elijah and John the Baptist, but more often prophets were fully integrated into the “systems” and “structures” of their times. Think of Jeremiah, who came from the fallen priestly house of Eli; and Ezekiel, Zechariah and Isaiah were also priests and prophets of the court. Prophets appeared in the courts of the kings of Israel. In the moving story of King David, the prophet Nathan rebuked the king for adultery and murder but he was also capable of some rather discrete maneuvering in his efforts to put Solomon on the throne!

Authentic prophets were strident opponents of the status quo. They recognized and felt the injustice that kings and priests and false prophets wanted to whitewash. They shared the groans of the oppressed poor, of widows, orphans and the dispossessed, and articulated those groans in cries of woe. They denounced the system, but denounced a system in which they were often enmeshed. They experienced deeply what was wrong with that system, and did everything they could to bring about change from within the system.

It’s far too easy to denounce from a distance. Gestures of repudiation and condemnation cost so little, and adding the term prophetic may lend an aura of piety, importance and savvy to one’s reputations and works. But they don’t accomplish their goal of bringing about conversion, transformation and renewal.

Prophets in the Bible cannot afford gestures. They are called to speak the word of the Lord from within the court, often wreaking havoc in the process! Authentic prophets spoke the truth face-to-face with power, to powerful men and women whom the prophets knew intimately, frequently from their own position of power. And often, the prophets were in the employ of those whom they challenged!

Finally, a word on our own “prophetic” efforts to bring about change in the Church. I will be forever grateful to the late Jesuit Cardinal Avery Dulles for having instilled these ideas in my mind and heart years ago. The then Father Dulles said that reformers ought to speak prophetically. This may well be true, provided that the nature of prophecy be correctly understood. Father said that St. Thomas Aquinas made an essential distinction between prophecy as it functioned in the Old Testament and as it functions within the Church. The ancient prophets were sent for two purposes: “To establish the faith and to rectify behavior.” In our day, Father Dulles continued, “the faith is already founded, because the things promised of old have been fulfilled in Christ. But prophecy which has as its goal to rectify behavior neither ceases nor will ever cease.”

How do we speak the Word of God with authority today? How do we use our authority to further the Kingdom of God? How are our words, gestures, messages and lives prophetic today, in the Church and in the world?

[The readings for this Sunday are: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; and Mark 1:21-28]

(Image: “Jesus in Capernaum” by Rodolpho Amoedo)

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2008 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store.

The Decree on Ecumenism: 50 Years Later part 3

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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.

Taking the Gospel of Life to the Streets…

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Last year on April 11, 2014, Pope Francis addressed the Italian Pro-Life movement with these provocative words:

“We know that human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right rests on the recognition of the first and fundamental right, that of life, which is not subordinate to any condition, be it quantitative, economic or, least of all, ideological. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills…. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 53). And in this way life, too, ends up being thrown away. One of the gravest risks our epoch faces, amid the opportunities offered by a market equipped with every technological innovation, is the divorce between economics and morality, the basic ethical norms of human nature are increasingly neglected. It is therefore necessary to express the strongest possible opposition to every direct attack on life, especially against the innocent and defenseless, and the unborn in a mother’s womb is the example of innocence par excellence. Let us remember the words of the Second Vatican Council: “Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 51).”

Today we are living in the midst of a culture that denies solidarity and takes the form of a veritable “culture of death”. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents that encourage an idea of society exclusively concerned with efficiency. It is a war of the powerful against the weak. There is no room in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the dying, is a weak element in the social structure or anyone who appears completely at the mercy of others and radically dependent on them and can only communicate through the silent language of profound sharing of affection. Abortion is the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. Let us never forget Pope Benedict XVI’s words at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, on July 17, 2008:

And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?

The Roman Catholic Church holds a consistent ethic of life. The Church offers a teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and dignity of the human person. However, opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons – all of these things and more poison human society.

In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other states as if it were a form of cultural progress.

“Openness to life is at the centre of true development,” wrote Pope Benedict in his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.” When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.” The Holy Father sums up the current global economic crisis in a remarkable way with these words: “Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs.”

The burning issues of the promotion of human life must be high on the agenda of every human being on every side of the political spectrum. They are not only the concern of the far right of the political spectrum. Many people, blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones.

The market push towards euthanasia

FrancisElderlyIf we look carefully at the great dramas of the last century, we see that as free markets toppled Communism, exaggerated consumerism and materialism infiltrated our societies and cultures. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As St. John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.”

Most people who think that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be legal are not thinking the whole issue through. They are thinking about personal autonomy and choice. They think about what it would be like to suddenly become incapacitated and consider such a life as undignified or worthless. Perhaps they consider severely disabled people as having no quality of life. Our dignity and quality of life don’t come from what we can or cannot do. Dignity and quality of life are not matters of efficiency, proficiency and productivity. They come from a deeper place – from who we are and how we relate to each other. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

What is wrong with abortion, euthanasia, embryo selection, and embryonic research is not the motives of those who carry them out. So often, those motives are, on the surface, compassionate: to protect a child from being unwanted, to end pain and suffering, to help a child with a life-threatening disease. But in all these cases, the terrible truth is that it is the strong who decide the fate of the weak; human beings therefore become instruments in the hands of other human beings.

Being pro-life is one of the deepest expressions of our baptism: we stand up as sons and daughters of the light, clothed in humility and charity, filled with conviction, speaking the truth to power with firmness, conviction and determination, and never losing joy and hope. Being Pro-Life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are Pro-Life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB CEO,
Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation

 

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Duty and Obligation of being Pro-Life

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What does it mean to be pro-life?

To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted. Remember the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI:

Every crime against life is an attack on peace, especially if it strikes at the moral conduct of people…But where human rights are truly professed and publicly recognized and defended, peace becomes the joyful and operative climate of life in society.

Abortion is without a doubt the most serious wound inflicted not only on individuals and their families who should provide the sanctuary for life, but inflicted as well on society and its culture, by the very people who ought to be society’s promoters and defenders. We must never lose sight of the atrocities against the unborn, the untold and too-seldom spoken of pain and lingering anguish experienced by those who have been involved in abortions.

I know about the tragedy of abortion and I know about the good work of many people involved in the pro-life Movement who work hard to prevent this tragedy. However a singular focus on abortion as the arbiter of what it means to be “pro-life” has severely narrowed our national discourse about moral values in the public square. People claiming to be fervently Catholic, always right, and blinded by their own zeal and goodness, have ended up defeating the very cause for which we must all defend with every ounce of energy in our flesh and bones. Their anger vitiates their efforts.

Could it be that some of us are turned off or even repelled by current definitions or behaviors of some of those people claiming to be pro-life, yet manifesting a tunnel vision? The Roman Catholic Church offers a consistent teaching on the inviolability, the sacredness and the dignity of the human person: a 20/20 vision for which we must strive each day if we claim to be pro-life. Opposition to abortion and euthanasia does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision.

What is also troubling are those who claim to be on the “left”, always championing human and civil rights, respecting and upholding the dignity and freedom of others. This of course has included the protection of individual rights, and the efforts of government to care for the weak, sick and disadvantaged. Why then are the extension to the unborn of the human right to life, and opposition to the culture of death, not central issues on the “left?” They must be, for they are clearly matters of justice and human rights.

A few years ago, Cardinal Séan O’Malley wrote to the people of Boston with these words:

If any cause is motivated by judgment, anger or vindictiveness, it will be doomed to marginalization and failure. Jesus’ words to us were that we must love one another as He loves us… Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church, for our proclamation of the Truth is hindered when we are divided and fighting with each other.

We cannot ignore the other great challenge faced by humanity today–the serious question of mercy killing, or euthanasia as it is sometimes called, no longer found in abstract cases and theories. It concerns ordinary people and is debated not only in Parliament but also around dinner tables and in classrooms. Aging populations, especially in the west, and resulting smaller workforces are now creating a market push towards euthanasia. As Pope John Paul II wrote: “a right to die will inevitably give way to the duty to die.” This issue strikes to the very core of who we are and what we believe. Even when not motivated by the refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false and misguided mercy. True compassion leads to sharing another’s pain, not killing the person whose suffering we cannot bear.

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Furthering the Common Good

Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the dignity of the human person such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself, whatever insults human dignity such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children, disgraceful working conditions where people are treated as instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons… all of these things and more poison human society.

It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (Truth in Charity), the Holy Father addresses clearly the dignity and respect for human life:

Openness to life is at the centre of true development… When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.

Engaging the Culture Around Us

Being pro-life does not give us the right and license to say and do whatever we wish, to malign, condemn and destroy other human beings who do not share our views. We must never forget the principles of civility, Gospel charity, ethics, and justice. Jesus came to engage the culture of his day, and we must engage the culture of our day. We must avoid the sight impairment and myopia that often afflict people of good will who are blinded by their own zeal and are unable to see the whole picture. Being pro-life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are pro-life, we must engage the culture around us, and not curse it. We must see others as Jesus does, and we must love them to life, even those who are opposed to us. Being pro-life in this day and age is truly prophetic, and it will bring about authentic development and enduring peace in our world.

We are all invited pray these words each day, especially during this week:

LupitaEternal Father, Source of Life, strengthen us with your Holy Spirit to receive the abundance of life you have promised.
Open our hearts to see and desire the beauty of your plan for life and love.
Make our love generous and self-giving so that we may be blessed with joy.
Grant us great trust in your mercy.
Forgive us for not receiving your gift of life and heal us from the effects of the culture of death.
Instill in us and all people reverence for every human life.
Inspire and protect our efforts on behalf of those most vulnerable especially the unborn, the sick and the elderly.
We ask this in the Name of Jesus, who by His Cross makes all things new. Amen.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation

(CNS photo/Bob Roller)
(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Decree on Ecumenism: 50 Years Later part 2

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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 2 of his address, Fr. Rosica focuses on identifying problems and raising important questions regarding the ecumenical movement in the Catholic Church.

Part II

Is the ecumenical movement in crisis?
So much has been achieved in joint efforts for Christian unity over the past 50 years. Separated Christians no longer consider one another as strangers, competitors or even enemies, but as brothers and sisters. We have largely removed the former lack of understanding, misunderstanding, prejudice, and indifference; we pray together, together we give witness to our common faith; in many fields we work together. We have experienced that “what unites us is much greater than what divides us.” Such a change was unthinkable at the turn of the twentieth century and those who wish to go back to those times seriously risk being forsaken not only by a good, warm, friendly spirit but also by the Holy Spirit.

Yet after the first rather euphoric phase of the ecumenical movement that followed the Second Vatican Council, the last decades have seen us experiencing signs of tiredness, disillusionment and stagnation. Some go so far as to speak even of a crisis, and many Christians no longer understand the differences on which the churches are arguing with each other. Others hold that ecumenism is outmoded and that interreligious dialogue is now the agenda du jour. Let us be very clear about such discussions: there is a difference but not a competition between the two dialogues, for ultimately to be effective, interreligious dialogue presupposes that Christians can speak one and the same language. The necessity of interreligious dialogue makes ecumenical dialogue even more urgent.

 In light of the current situation in the world and in the Church, and because of the scandalous divisions that still exist among Christians, it is all the more necessary to raise a number of questions regarding our efforts for Christian unity: What did the Council really say about Church unity? Where are we today on the ecumenical journey? Why the current ecumenical crisis? How do we overcome the current problems? What are these problems? Let me try to answer some of the questions and raise new ones.

1) The decisive element of the Second Vatican Council’s ecumenical approach is the fact that the Council no longer identifies the Church of Jesus Christ simply with the Roman Catholic Church, as had Pope Pius XII as late as in the Encyclical Mystici corporis (1943).

2) In its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, the Council replaced “est” (the Catholic Church “is” Jesus Christ’s Church) with “subsistit”: the Church of Jesus Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, which means that the Church of Jesus Christ is made concretely real in the Catholic Church; in her she is historically and concretely present and can be met. This does not exclude that also outside the visible structure of the Catholic Church there are not only individual Christians but also elements of the Church, and with them an “ecclesial reality”. We cannot think that beyond the boundaries of the Catholic community there is a huge, ecclesial vacuum!

3) The Council speaks of “elementa ecclesiae” outside the Catholic Church, which, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling towards Catholic unity. The concept “elementa” or “vestigia” comes from Calvin. Obviously, the Council – unlike Calvin – understands the elementa not as sad remains but as dynamic reality, and it says expressly that the Spirit of God uses these elementa as means of salvation for non-Catholic Christians. Both the Council and the ecumenical decree acknowledge explicitly that the Holy Spirit is at work in the other churches in which they even discover examples of holiness leading to martyrdom.

4) The Council is fully aware of the sinfulness of the members of its own Church, and of sinful structures existing in the Church itself; and it knows about the need of reforming the shape of the Church. The Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium and the Decree on Ecumenism state expressly that the Church is a pilgrim Church, an ecclesia “semper purificanda”, which must constantly take the way of penance and renewal. Ecumenism is not possible without conversion and renewal. Ecumenism therefore is no one-way street, but a reciprocal learning process, or – as stated in St. John Paul II’s masterful ecumenical Encyclical Ut unum sint – an exchange of gifts.

FrancisBartholomew

5) Recent decisions and directions by our sister Churches in the areas of moral theology, ethics, life and death issues, ordained ministries, questions regarding the family, marriage, sexuality and human life are essential issues that must not be ignored out of fear of jeopardizing our ecumenical consensus. In the business of authentic ecumenism, communication must be frank and robust, respectful and charitable. Catholic participants are expected to hold fast to the Church’s teachings, presenting doctrines clearly and avoiding all forms of reductionism or facile agreement. When we are in dialogue with other Christian churches, must treat each other as partners and presuppose that each partner desires unity, even when we speak about contentious or divisive issues. We must avoid giving the impression of a“divide et impera” attitude to Christians of other churches and communions.

6) For many in my generation and older, the Second Vatican Council’s ecumenical thrust and movement was a powerful hopeful, energizing new experience. In the meantime we have several new generations of Catholics who were not yet born at the time of the Council nor did they experience its dynamic impulse in the decades following the Council, so they do not really understand what, how and why things have changed. They do not understand our theological problems and they are not interested in them! For many, the ecumenical questions have lost their fascination, momentum, passion and dynamism. This is very often connected with a lack of catechetical, homiletic and proper theological instruction. Many do not know what Catholic or Protestant doctrine is all about and what the differences are. Often they have only a superficial and sound bite knowledge through the media and Social Media. In this situation we are faced with a double task and challenge. Firstly, we have to promote ecumenical education and the reception of ecumenical results. The results of ecumenical progress have not yet penetrated into the hearts and into the flesh of our Catholic community and of other churches as well. Ecumenical theology is not present as an inner dimension in theological programs and ministerial formation.

7) The crisis of the ecumenical movement is paradoxically the result of its success. Ecumenism for many became obvious. But the closer we come to one another, the more painful is the perception that we are not yet in full communion. We are very impatient. We are hurt by what still separates us and hinders us from joining around the table of the Lord; we are increasingly dissatisfied with the ecumenical status quo; in this atmosphere, ecumenical frustration and sometimes even opposition develops. Paradoxically it is ecumenical progress that is also the cause for the ecumenical malaise!

8) As we move closer to Jesus Christ, in him we move nearer to one another. Therefore, it is not a question of Church political debates and compromises, nor of some kind of superficial union, but of a reciprocal spiritual exchange and a mutual enrichment. Ecumenism is a spiritual journey, in which the question is not about a way backwards but about a way forwards. Such unity is ultimately a gift of God’s Spirit and of his guidance. The oikoumene is neither a mere academic nor only a diplomatic matter; its soul is spiritual ecumenism. The practice of prayer is an indispensable means of sustaining the activities of common witness and dialogue as we progress along the path to Christian unity. All are invited to enter into the prayer of Jesus, who before his passion asked the Father that his disciples might be one, so that the world may believe (Jn 17:21).

9) During his pontificate, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI emphasized that the proclamation of Jesus Christ is not about gaining “as many members as possible for our community, and still less in order to gain power. … We speak of him [Christ] because we feel the duty to transmit that joy which has been given to us.”

Benedict also expressed his concern over a growing interest among governments to sponsor programs intended to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue.  Speaking in “Rotunda” Hall of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center of Washington, D.C. on April 17, 2008,  Benedict said: “These are praiseworthy initiatives. At the same time, religious freedom, interreligious dialogue and faith-based education aim at something more than a consensus regarding ways to implement practical strategies for advancing peace. The broader purpose of dialogue is to discover the truth. What is the origin and destiny of mankind? What are good and evil? What awaits us at the end of our earthly existence? Only by addressing these deeper questions can we build a solid basis for the peace and security of the human family, for wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace.”

10) Massive problems of poverty in today’s world cry out to us as Christians. There are too many women and men who suffer from severe malnutrition, growing unemployment, the rising numbers of unemployed youth, and from increasing social exclusion.  These can give rise to criminal activity and even the recruitment of terrorists as we are witnessing at present.  We cannot remain indifferent or deaf to the cries of our brothers and sisters who ask of us not only material assistance – needed in so many circumstances – but above all, our help to defend their inherent dignity as human persons, so that they can find the spiritual energy to become once again protagonists in their own lives. As Christians we are called together to eliminate that globalization of indifference which today seems to reign supreme, while building a new civilization of love and solidarity.

11) A second piercing cry comes to us from the victims of the conflicts in so many parts of our world. Nations are scarred by an inhumane, brutal war and senseless terrorism. The cry of the victims of conflict urges us to move with haste along the path of reconciliation and communion especially between Catholics and Orthodox. Pope Francis has written: “Christians of the East and West must give common witness so that, strengthened by the Spirit of the risen Christ, they may disseminate the message of salvation to the entire world.” Both Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew are not only motivated by the cause of ecumenism but also by forming a united front against the persecution of Christianity in the Middle East where the number of Catholics and Orthodox have dwindled over the past couple decades.

12) A third cry which challenges us is that of young people who tragically live without hope, overcome by mistrust and resignation.  Many of the young, influenced by the prevailing culture, seek happiness solely in possessing material things and in satisfying their fleeting emotions. It is precisely the young who today implore us to make progress towards full communion. Not for naught did St. John XXIII refer to the Taizé community as “that little springtime” where tens of thousands of young people go on pilgrimage not because they ignore the differences which still separate us, but because they are able to see beyond them; they are able to embrace what is essential and what already unites us.

(CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Big Fish, the Great Catch, the Ultimate Commission

St Paul Preaching cropped

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – January 25, 2015

Those with literal minds will question many things about the Jonah story [Jonah 3:1-5, 10]: the great fish, the size and population of this immense city, and the conversion of the Assyrians.

On the other hand, those who really listen to and view this story with ears and eyes of faith will take all of these other factors in stride. What is essential is not the size of God’s sea monsters, nor the distances to be covered within cities, nor the large numbers of those converted.

For people of faith, the rather amazing Jonah story contains a far greater message: Because the people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah and turned from their evil ways, God repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them. No person, place or situation is beyond God’s mercy and healing reach!

It is no wonder, then, that Christianity saw Jonah as a positive figure prefiguring Christ and his universal Gospel message. Through Christ, God approaches his world in a new, decisive way in order to fulfill all the expectations and hopes of the Old Testament.

Jesus to the city

When the disciples in today’s Gospel [Mark 1:14-20] leave their nets and present occupations in order to submit to God’s Kingdom, they model what this turning from and turning toward means. How can we bring the Good News of God and of Jesus to our cities that are often so vast, so impersonal, so busy and filled with noise?

At times do we not often run the other way to the lake and wait for some speedboat or cruise ship to pick us up and take us to a quiet, peaceful place that is much less complicated and less hostile to our message? How can we Christians be the souls of our cities?

We begin by celebrating the Eucharist with devotion and love. We must pray incessantly. We continue to do many hidden, quiet sacrifices each day of our lives with love, peace and joy. We take our baptism seriously and activate the Beatitudes in daily living. We must never give up in living God’s Word and preaching it to others in words and deeds.

Remaining faithful

Whenever I read the story of Jonah, I am reminded of a story I heard in Jerusalem during the four years of my graduate studies in the Holy Land. One day my Muslim neighbors had invited me to meet their Imam. As we sat and sipped tea in the Old City of Jerusaelm, the religious leader of the small mosque near my house spoke about the mercy of Allah.

He recounted a story about a certain Muslim — Youssef ben-al-Husayn — who died in the year 917. Youssef had received from his master the order to preach incessantly. He had however been very misunderstood and ostracized, and the time came when he had no more people who would listen to his words and messages.

One day Youssef entered the mosque to preach and not a soul was present. He was leaving the mosque when an old woman cried out to him: “Youssef, if the people are absent, the Almighty, he is surely present. Even though no one is here, teach the Word of Allah!”

Thus Youssef preached the word for 50 years, whether or not anyone was present to hear it. He didn’t give up because of people’s indifference, cynicism, absence or wickedness. He simply remained faithful to his vocation of preaching the word of Allah.

Youssef ben-al Husayn and Jonah probably experienced a bit of prophetic fatigue in their day. They continued to preach the Word of God in season and out of season. We know what happened because of Jonah’s persistence and fidelity to that word.

I am sure that Jesus must have felt the same way on many occasions. Was anyone really listening to his message? And with Jan. 25 marking the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, how could we not think of the great Apostle to the Gentiles, and his trials and tribulations endured as he preached the Gospel?

In the Acts of the Apostles [18:8-10], Paul arrives in Corinth, and we are told that “many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized.” One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.”

The Zeal of St. Paul

This great Apostle to the Gentiles causes every Catholic hold up a mirror to his or her life and to ask, “Am I as determined and as energetic about spreading the Catholic faith as St. Paul was?”

Our Catholic faith only grows when we consciously and conscientiously share it with others. Christ will look at each one of us with his merciful eyes at our individual judgment and ask what efforts we made during the course of our lifetime to invite people into communion with Jesus Christ and his Church. In the end, the Lord will ask us: “Did you love me? To whom did you preach the Good News? How many people did you bring with you?”

The Ultimate Commission

What does Jesus Christ demand of us today? Repentance, conversion, a turning away from our own ideas about how God’s Kingdom should operate and a turning toward belief in Christ’s teaching and example about God’s Kingdom that is among us here and now. Our ultimate commission is to preach the word of God in season and out of season.

May the fire that the Holy Spirit poured into the heart of St. Paul of Tarsus, inflame our hearts to be vibrant and effective missionaries of the New Evangelization. May it strengthen us never to give up, especially when it seems like no one is listening any more. For it is precisely at such moments that the Lord will say again to us: “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.”

[The readings for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time are: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; and Mark 1:14-20.]

(Image: “St Paul Preaching in Athens” by Raphael)

The Decree on Ecumenism: 50 Years Later part 1

 

SVC

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 1 of his address, Fr. Rosica delves into the background of Ecumenism and the Catholic Church, particularly in the context of St. John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council. Read part 1 the full text of Fr. Rosica’s address below:

Part I
Introduction and Background

The ecumenical movement, born in the twentieth century is the means by which the churches which form the house “oikos” of God, seek to live and witness before all peoples the wonders God has worked among us, especially through the crucified and risen Christ and his life-giving Spirit. We cannot forget the historical background of that century, which began with a belief in progress and turned out to be one of the darkest and bloodiest centuries in the history of humankind, with two world wars, many local wars, civil wars and ethnic conflicts, two humanity-despising totalitarian systems, concentration camps and gulags, genocides, expulsions and waves of refugees. Never before had so many people violently lost their lives in one single century. But out of the utter despair of those years, a bright light shattered the darkness: the ecumenical movement. After centuries of Christian fragmentation, a counter movement quietly began as churches became painfully aware that such a situation contradicted Jesus Christ’s will, and was a sin and a scandal. The separation of the Churches – 1500 years ago with the Ancient Oriental Churches, 1000 years ago with the Orthodox Churches, and almost 500 years ago with reformed Christianity, with a tendency to still new divisions – had seriously prejudiced the credibility of the Christian message.

Nor can we forget that this new ecumenical awareness developed in connection with the missionary movement. The birth of the ecumenical movement finds its roots in the 1910 World Missionary Conference of Edinburgh. The division of the Churches was recognized as a serious obstacle to world mission. A second impulse came from the war experiences and the national-socialist terror. In the concentration camps, courageous Christians from different Churches discovered that in their resistance against a new pagan totalitarian reign of evil, they had much more in common than what divided them. Thus, the ecumenical movement emerged fully in the second half of the 20th century. The founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948 in Amsterdam was an important milestone on the ecumenical way.

Ecumenism2John XXIII and Vatican II

Fifty-six years ago January 25, St. John XXIII announced an ecumenical council that would bring together the bishops of the Catholic Church as the Church’s most important deliberative body. In a series of meetings from 1962 to 1965 later to be known as the Second Vatican Council – the bishops of the world sought to update and renew the life of the Catholic Church. A second, related goal of the Council was “the restoration of unity among all Christians”. We must never forget that one of the two goals of the Council was Christian unity: ecumenism.

Having served early on in his career as Apostolic Visitor and later Delegate to Bulgaria where there were Eastern Rite Catholics and Orthodox Christians, but few Roman Catholics, Angelo Roncalli, who would become John XXIII, understood diversity of religion and diversity of culture. In 1934 he was transferred to Greece and Turkey as Apostolic Nuncio to those predominantly Orthodox and Islamic nations. Because of his sincere humility and his desire to build relationships and mutual understanding, he won the respect and affection of many people, especially non-Catholics. He was on the cutting edge of what would become known among Catholics as the ecumenical movement. He learned the importance of dialogue and love of neighbour, and became convinced that these were the only authentic paths to Christian unity, world peace and mutual prosperity.

The “Good Pope” understood that as each church renews its fidelity to the gospel, it grows closer to the others. The presence of 169 “fraternal” observers from other churches and ecclesial communities at the Second Vatican Council was a sign of John XXIII’s commitment to Christian unity and to the inseparable link between the Council’s desire for Catholic renewal and for ecumenical engagement. With the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church formally joined the ecumenical movement. The participation of the Roman Catholic Church in this movement is irrevocable.

This past November 21 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism: Unitatis Redintegratio. The Council Fathers approved almost unanimously the Decree: 2,137 voted in favour, only 11 against. Such a final vote revealed the positive degree to which the Episcopal conscience had evolved and matured since the 78-year old former Patriarch of Venice, only three months Bishop of Rome and believed to be merely “a transitional pope” announced three years earlier an Ecumenical Council.

The Decree on Ecumenism received an overwhelming majority vote despite having previously been the object of many heated and considerable debates. In view of the strong language of previous centuries against schism and heresy, it is not surprising that the decree was hotly debated, with many unwilling to break radically from the traditional language. In the end, however, the decree showed much generosity. It accepts that Catholics must take their share of blame for the divisions among Christians and that the living cannot be blamed for the sins of their ancestors. Other Christians are spoken of as “brothers and sisters,” and the unity that already exists is emphasized. The decree recognizes however, that obstacles remain to full communion and it urges Catholics to do their best to overcome them. The opening paragraph of the Council’s Decree states:

 “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves … as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ himself were divided. Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.”

In doing research for this address, I discovered an interesting “Canadian” connection to the discussions that resulted in UR. One of the Fathers of Vatican II was then Canadian Archbishop George Flahiff, CSB, former Superior General of the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian Fathers) and Archbishop of Winnipeg.

Archbishop Flahiff attended every session of Vatican II and spoke only once to the full assembly of bishops gathered in Council. His intervention on October 2, 1964, addressed a draft document or schema, which led to Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism that would be promulgated by Pope Paul VI a little over two months later on November 21, 1964.

Two points of Archbishop Flahiff’s speech stand out in particular, since they came to be included, almost verbatim, in the final draft of the Council’s Decree on Ecumenism. First, Flahiff lamented the many divisions between Christian ecclesial communities and polarization within the Catholic Church itself. Flahiff recognized these realities as a counter-sign to God’s kingdom. He told the assembled bishops at Vatican II that “schisms can remind the Church that she is not yet as holy as she should be and not yet perfectly obedient to her vocation to be catholic.” Second, on a more positive note, Flahiff highlighted the vital role of the Holy Spirit in ecumenical activities: “The Spirit of God himself brings forth the varied fruit he wishes and leads all Christians to greater fidelity to the will of God.”

We can certainly sense the impact of George Falhiff’s words in UR #4. On inter-Christian and intra-Catholic divisions, the decree states:

 “For although the Catholic Church has been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace, yet its members fail to live by them with all the fervor that they should, so that the radiance of the Church’s image is less clear in the eyes of our separated brethren and of the world at large, and the growth of God’s kingdom is delayed… The divisions among Christians prevent the Church from attaining the fullness of catholicity proper to her, in those of her sons and daughters who, though attached to her by Baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her.”

 The same paragraph of UR speaks in this way of the work of the Holy Spirit in fostering Christian unity:

“Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church.”

UR clearly marked the opening of a new way of doing ecumenism in the Catholic Church, entering officially into the wider ecumenical movement. The conciliar decree had three parts: Part 1 outlines the Catholic principles which are still very important for Catholics today. Part 2 addresses the practice of ecumenism, the dialogue of truth and the dialogue of love, with spiritual ecumenism as the basis or the soul of all ecumenical engagement. Part 3 examines the two main splits in the Church, between East and West in the 11th century and within the Western Church in the 16th century and the different ways of resolving these problems.

Ecumenism

The Decree on Ecumenism, like any other conciliar decree or statement, never tried to address all of our present concerns regarding Christian life or Christian teaching. The documents of Vatican II reflected on Church life preceding the Council, and presented us with a framework upon which the future could be built. We must never forget that the teachings of a particular Council do not automatically become part of the life of the universal Church merely because the hierarchy of the Church has officially promulgated such documents. In this way, the Decree on Ecumenism was never a handbook of ecumenical theology nor an encyclopedia of Christian divisions. It is, more than anything, a pastoral statement, a charter for a movement and not the dogmatic decree of a static position frozen in time.

The very soul of the ecumenical movement is an ongoing conversion and a search for reconciliation among all Christians. This search is primarily a spiritual task involving the seeking of truth as we try to follow more closely the One who is the Way the Truth and the Life.

Over the past fifty years, ecumenism and the ecumenical movement have become commonplace for most Christians. While ecumenism hasn’t yet achieved full reunion, it’s still among the most visible, powerful, successful Christian movements of the late 20th century. Church leaders who promote the re-establishment of unity among all Christians described their efforts as “ecumenical.” However activity for the promotion of unity between Christians – all of whom belong to one family of faith – is to be distinguished from interfaith activities, which aim to foster understanding between Christianity and the other religions.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church has engaged in official dialogues at the international level with the Orthodox Churches of Byzantine Tradition, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Methodist Council, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Baptist World Alliance, the Christian Church – Disciples of Christ, the Mennonites, the Pentecostal Churches, and the World Evangelical Alliance.

In Canada, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Christian Unity, Religious Relations with the Jews, and Interfaith Dialogue supports dialogues with the Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Lutheran Church-Canada, the United Church of Canada, the Polish National Catholic Church and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The Conference of Bishops participates as a full member of the Canadian Council of Churches.

These dialogues converge in the fact that they revolve around the concept of communio as their key concept. This convergence in the concept of communio corresponds to the vision of the Second Vatican Council. The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops of 1985 stated that the communio-ecclesiology is the “central and basic idea of the Council documents”.

Today the ecumenical question can no longer be one directed only to theologians and officeholders of the different churches. The unity of Christians must be more effectively introduced to the entire people of God in a visible and tangible way. As long as Christians remain divided, ignorant of the need for unity so too will their proclamation go unnoticed or even not understood in the world today. In a world where unbelief is a rapidly growing phenomenon, Christians must continually ask themselves if they are truly working to make God’s purpose known on earth so that the world will recognize Jesus as the true Lord and Savior of the “oikoumene.”

CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo

CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

CNS photo/courtesy of Archbishop Loris Capovilla

 

Preaching St. Paul

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Preaching St. Paul
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Think for a moment of the way that the apostle Paul’s words have worked their way into the fabric of our English language 2,000 years later and an ocean away from his place of birth in Tarsus. How many times in a week do we hear or say something uniquely Pauline and not even realize it? Consider for instance these well-known phrases:

“A thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7).

“The letter of the law” (2 Cor 3:6).

“The twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor 15:52).

“The wages of sin” (Rom 6:23).

“The powers that be” (Rom 13:1).

“All things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22).

“Fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4).

“Fight the good fight” (1 Tm 6:12).

“Labor of love” (1 Thes 1:3).

“Bear with fools gladly” (2 Cor 11:19).

“A thief in the night” (1 Thes 5:4).

“The root of all evil” (1 Tm 6:10).

“Old wives’ tales” (1 Tm 4:7).

St. Paul has left his lasting mark on the language of us gentiles even in these parts of the world where he never set foot. And this is a very superficial means of gauging his influence. Let’s take a very brief look
at four of Paul’s letters and ask if they have any relevance for our lives today?

Let’s look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul was the first to preach the Gospel to the Galatians. Since they were Gentiles, he did not require them to be circumcised or to follow the Mosaic Law. He preached that it was sufficient to believe in Christ in order to share in the blessings of Israel. God had provided another way to salvation, a way which made the Law of Moses obsolete.

Paul’s mission to the Galatians was highly successful. They received the Spirit and welcomed Paul as if he were an angel of God. But after he left, other Christian missionaries, probably Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, came to Galatia and preached a different version of the Gospel. They argued that Paul had not communicated the full Gospel to the Galatians. They contended that since Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the Galatians must accept circumcision and follow the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law if they wished to share in the full benefits of the messianic age. In other words, the Galatians had to become Jews before they could become Christians.

The problems Paul faced at Galatia are not our problems. Nonetheless, in the Christian life analogous situations arise. In American society the important question is “what do you do”? We are judged in our society by success, initiative, and achievement. We measure ourselves and others by what we accomplish.

Just as the Galatians were tempted to add the Mosaic Law to what Christ had done, so contemporary Christians are enticed to add something to what God has done in his Christ. It may not be the Law of Moses, but it may be the Law of Success or Achievement. The Gospel message Paul proclaimed to the Galatians must be announced from generation to generation.

On first reading Paul’s letter to the Romans appears to be a longer version of Galatians but Romans is not just a longer, more systematic version of Galatians, but a letter in its own right.

In Romans the audience and situation are different. Paul now writes to a mixed congregation of Gentiles and Jews. Moreover, the problems come from within the community rather than from outside. It now appears that the Gentile Christians have the upper hand, and there is a danger that they will abuse their newfound power at the expense of the Jewish Christians.

Paul faces a serious theological issue rooted in a social problem. The social problem concerned the relationship of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. How should they relate to each other within the Church? Is it possible for them to associate with each other on a basis of equality, or must one group dominate?

What is Israel’s role in salvation history? What was the purpose of the Law? Has God been faithful to Israel, or has God abandoned Israel? In Romans the very faithfulness of God is at stake.

While it may appear that the problem Paul faced in Romans has little relationship to our situation. In our day Judaism and Christianity form two distinct faiths. We do not have communities of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians struggling to live together. Is Romans hopelessly dated?

Because of what God has done in Jesus Christ, everyone has the possibility of standing in the proper relationship to God. Whereas Paul spoke of the unity between Jew and Gentile, we might proclaim the unity between Anglo and Hispanic, Black and White. Faith in Christ puts us on an equal footing before God. There are no other “entrance requirements” such as social class or privilege.

Paul stresses the profound need for salvation (Rom. 1-3); the nature of this salvation (Rom. 5-8); the faithfulness of God to his people (Rom. 9-11); and the challenge of community living (Rom. 12-15). Romans responds that God’s ways have not changed. God has always dealt with people on the basis of faith. God deals with us in the same way today. The concrete situation has changed, but the deeper issues remain.

No church provided Paul with more occasions for correspondence than that of Corinth. The questions he answered and the problems he encountered suggest that the Corinthian community was a lively church with a mind of its own. Although Paul was its founder it often opposed him.

Second Corinthians is not so easy to describe. It appears that First Corinthians did not solve the many problems at Corinth. In fact the situation deteriorated to such a point that Paul had to visit Corinth. The visit ended in humiliation for him (Paul’s “painful visit” mentioned in 2:1).

The Corinthians did not make the proper Pauline distinction between “already” and “not yet.” They were infatuated by the charismatic gifts they received with the coming of the Spirit. They reveled in their new knowledge and wisdom. They believed that they were already living in the eschaton. There was little if anything to anticipate. Consequently, they attached themselves to particular apostles whom they believed possessed special wisdom. They believed they were immune from the temptations of the flesh. They saw no danger from participating in pagan idol worship. They viewed the Eucharist as if it were a celebration of the eschaton. They overvalued ecstatic gifts such as tongues. They saw no need for a future resurrection. They were infatuated with the Superlative Apostles.

Paul’s response to the Corinthians was to proclaim the scandal of the cross: “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles”. He reminded them that the Eucharist is a proclamation of “the Lord’s death until he comes”. Most importantly, he emphasized his own share in Christ’s sufferings as the sign which authenticates his own apostleship: “we are afflicted in every way, . . . always carrying in the body the death of Jesus”. Paul opposed the Corinthians’ Theology of Glory by his Theology of the Cross. Ever so realistic, he argued that resurrection glory is a future hope, it has not yet been attained. In the meantime, Christians must share in Christ’s sufferings if they hope to attain his resurrection.

Every generation of Christians is easily seduced by a Theology of Glory which would ignore or even pass over the cross. In a consumer society there is an ever-present danger that Christians will mistake the good life for the fullness of life. In an affluent culture there is the temptation to live as though the fulness of salvation had already arrived. The basic problem Paul encountered is ours, and his solution remains as valid now as it was nearly two thousand years ago. The Christian life must pass by way of the cross before it can attain resurrection glory.

Pauline letters present answers. Our task is to raise the contemporary questions to which the answers apply.

The Cost of Our Discipleship

Calling of John and Andrew cropped

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – January 18, 2015

Reflecting on today’s readings, especially the call of Samuel and of Andrew and his brother, I remembered something that the German Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his prison in Nazi Germany, that “only by living unreservedly in this life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities … does one become a man and a Christian.” Bonhoeffer experienced what he called so poignantly “the cost of discipleship.”

The Prophet Samuel and Andrew and Simon Peter experienced this cost in their own lives. First let us consider the story of Samuel’s call — a dramatic story exemplifying the dynamics of God’s call, and offering to us a model to follow in our own lives. Eli was old and nearly blind. His sons, who were the priests of the temple, had been unfaithful to God. Their time was nearing an end, so God called Samuel to begin a new era.

Samuel needed help in discerning his call, and Eli’s wisdom and friendship with the young man were necessary so that Samuel could really hear the Lord’s voice. Once Samuel recognized that it was truly the Lord who was calling him, he became the great prophet who would discern God’s will regarding religious, social and political matters for the people.

When we come before the Lord to listen to his Word, our deepest prayer and cry of the heart should be: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” But is it not true that that cry often turns out to be: “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking!”

At the recent world Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church,” then-Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of the Diocese of Imus in the Philippines (now Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila), made one of the most significant interventions. Cardinal Tagle spoke about the disposition of listening to God’s Word that leads people to true life. He said: “Listening is a serious matter. The Church must form hearers of the Word. But listening is not transmitted only by teaching but more by a milieu of listening.”

Cardinal Tagle proposed three points to develop a disposition of listening:

1. Listening in faith means opening one’s heart to God’s Word, allowing it to penetrate and transform us, and practicing it. It is equivalent to obedience in faith. Formation in listening is integral faith formation.

2. Events in our world show the tragic effects of the lack of listening: conflicts in families, gaps between generations and nations, and violence. People are trapped in a milieu of monologues, inattentiveness, noise, intolerance and self-absorption. The Church can provide a milieu of dialogue, respect, mutuality and self-transcendence.

3. God speaks and the Church, as servant, lends its voice to the Word. But God does not only speak. God also listens, especially to the just, widows, orphans, persecuted, and the poor who have no voice. The Church must learn to listen the way God listens and must lend its voice to the voiceless.

In the Gospel story for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, it is Jesus who takes the initiative or the first step. His question to the disciples is intriguing: “What are you looking for?” (1:38). Far from any simple interrogation, these words are deeply religious and theological questions. “Why” Jesus asks, “are you turning to me for answers?” They ask him, “Teacher, where do you live? Where do you stay?” (verse 38). The verb “live,” “stay,” “remain,” “abide,” “dwell,” “lodge,” occurs 40 times in the Fourth Gospel. It is a verb that expresses concisely John’s theology of the indwelling presence.

The disciples are not only concerned about where Jesus might sleep that night, but they are really asking where he has his life. Jesus responds to them: “Come and see” (verse 39). Two loaded words throughout John’s Gospel — to “come” to Jesus is used to describe faith in him (cf John 5:40; 6:35. 37.45; 7:37). For John, to “see” Jesus with real perception is to believe in him.

The disciples began their discipleship when they went to see where he was staying and “they stayed on with him that day” (John 1:39). They responded to his invitation to believe, discovered what his life was like, and they “stayed on”; they began to live in him, and he in them. After Andrew had grown in his knowledge of who Jesus was, he “found his brother” Peter and “brought him to Jesus (verses 41,42). This whole experience will be fulfilled when the disciples see his glory on the cross.

What can we learn from the call stories in today’s readings? We are never called for our own sake, but for the sake of others. Israel was called by God for the benefit of the godless around it. God calls all Christians for the sake of the world in which we live.

To be called does not require perfection on our behalf, only fidelity and holy listening. Samuel and the prophets of Israel, the fishermen of Galilee and even the tax collectors that Jesus called were certainly not called because of their qualifications or achievements. Paul says that Jesus calls “the foolish,” so that the wise will be shamed. It is a dynamic call that involves a total response on our part. We will never be the same because he has called us, loved us, changed us and made us into his image. Because he has called us, we have no choice but to call others to follow him.

How have you been called away from the routine of your life, away from the frustrations of daily life and work? What new purpose do you find emerging in your life because of the ways that God has called you? Through whom have you encountered the call of the Lord in your life? Have you called anyone to follow the Lord recently?

[The readings for this Sunday are: 1 Samuel 3:3b-10, 19; 1 Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20; and John 1:35-42.]

(Image: “The Calling of Saint John and Saint Andrew” by James Tissot)