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Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa

3/22/2008 - 20:15 PST

(Page 2 of 3)

unity of the Church, that between Jews and pagans? The Holy Spirit descends upon Cornelius and his whole household in the same way in which he descended upon the apostles at Pentecost. So, Peter only needed to draw the conclusion: "If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?" (Acts 11:17).

For a century now, we have seen the same thing repeat itself before our eyes on a global scale. God has poured out the Holy Spirit in a new and unusual way upon millions of believers from every Christian denomination and, so that there would be no doubts about his intentions, he poured out the Spirit with the same manifestations. Is this not a sign that the Spirit moves us to recognize each other as disciples of Christ and work toward unity?

It is true that this spiritual and charismatic unity is not enough by itself. We see this already at the beginning of the Church. The newly formed unity between Jews and Gentiles was immediately threatened by schism. In the so-called Council of Jerusalem there was a "long discussion" and at the end an agreement was reached and announced to the Church with the formula: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us..." (Acts 15:28). The Holy Spirit works, therefore, also through another way, which is that of patient exchange, dialogue and even compromise between the different sides, when the essentials of the faith are not in play. He works through human "structures" and the "offices" put in action by Jesus, above all the apostolic and petrine office. It is that which today we call doctrinal and institutional ecumenism.

* * *

However, experience is convincing us that even this doctrinal ecumenism is not sufficient and does not advance matters if it is not also accompanied by a foundational spiritual ecumenism. This is repeated with ever greater insistence by the major promoters of institutional ecumenism. In this centenary of the institution of the week of prayer for Christian unity (1908-2008), at the foot of the cross we would like to meditate on this spiritual ecumenism, on what this spiritual ecumenism is and how we can make progress in it.

Spiritual ecumenism is born through repentance and forgiveness and is nourished by prayer. In 1977, I participated in a charismatic ecumenical congress in the U.S., in Kansas City, Missouri. There were 40,000 participants, half of them Catholic -- Cardinal Suenens among them -- and half from other Christian denominations. One evening, one of the leaders of the meeting began speaking at the microphone in a way that, to me, at that time, was strange: "You priests and pastors, weep and mourn, because the body of my Son is broken. ... You laypeople, men and women, weep and mourn, because the body of my Son is broken."

I began to see people around me fall to their knees, one after another, and to weep with repentance for the divisions in the body of Christ. And all of this went on while a sign reading "Jesus is Lord" went up from one part of the stadium to the other. I was there as an observer who was still rather critical and detached, but I remember thinking to myself: If one day all believers shall be reunited in one single body, it will happen like this, when we all are on our knees with a contrite and humiliated heart, under the great lordship of Christ.

If the unity of the disciples must be a reflection of the unity between Father and Son, it must above all be a unity of love, because such is the unity that reigns in the Trinity. Scripture exhorts us to "do the truth in love" -- "veritatem facientes in caritate" (Ephesians 4:15). And Augustine affirms that "one does not enter into the truth if not through charity" -- "non intratur in veritatem nisi per caritatem."[3]

The extraordinary thing about this way to unity based on love is that it is already now wide open before us. We cannot be hasty in regard to doctrine because differences exist and must be resolved with patience in the appropriate contexts. We can instead "be hasty" in charity and already be united in that sense now. The true, certain sign of the coming of the Spirit, St. Augustine writes, is not speaking in tongues, but it is the love of unity: "Know that you have the Holy Spirit when you allow your heart to adhere to unity through sincere charity."[4]

Let us reflect on St. Paul's hymn to charity. Each verse acquires a contemporary and new meaning if it is applied to the love of members of different Christian denominations in ecumenical relations:

"Love is patient…
Love is not jealous…
It does not seek its own interests…
It does not brood over injury… (if necessary, of the injury done to others!)
It does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth (it doesn't rejoice over the difficulties of other Churches, but delights in their successes)
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes ...

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1 - 2 of 2 Comments

  1. julius chinama
    3 years ago

    Dear Father,
    I would like to be receiving your rich homilies.
    God bless you in all what you do.

    In the spirit of st. Francis.

    julius chinama.

  2. Paul
    6 years ago

    St. Paul compared the love of spouses to Christ's Love for his Church. I'm frankly surprised that this homily on Christian unity excludes beginning with the cement of every Christian Family!

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