Unity is on the one hand the fruit of faith and, on the other, a means - almost a prerequisite - for an increasingly credible proclamation of the faith to those who do not yet know the Savior or who, while having received the proclamation of the Gospel, have almost forgotten this valuable gift.
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity gathered in Rome this week to consider the connection between the New Evangelization and authentic ecumenism. The Pope of Christian Unity, Benedict XVI, gave the following insights:
"We cannot follow a truly ecumenical path while ignoring the crisis of faith affecting vast areas of the world, including those where the proclamation of the Gospel was first accepted and where Christian life has flourished for centuries.
"On the other hand, we cannot ignore the many signs indicating a persistent need for spirituality, which is made manifest in various ways. The spiritual poverty of many of our contemporaries, who no longer perceive the absence of God in their lives as a form of deprivation, poses a challenge to all Christians".
Then he called those who had gathered to return to the fundamentals of the faith, the encounter with the Risen Jesus Christ noting, "we, believers in Christ, are called upon to return to the essential, to the heart of our faith, to bear witness to the living God before the world."
"We must not forget what it is that unites us: our faith in God the Father and Creator, revealed in His Son Jesus Christ, effusing the Spirit which revives and sanctifies. This is the faith we received in Baptism and it is the faith that, in hope and charity, we can profess together."
"In the light of the primacy of faith we may also understand the importance of the theological dialogues and conversations in which the Catholic Church is engaged with Churches and ecclesial communities."
"Even when we cannot discern the possibility of re-establishing full communion in the near future, such dialogue facilitates our awareness, not only of resistance and obstacles, but also of the richness of experience, spiritual life and theological reflection, which become a stimulus for ever deeper testimony".
The Pope made clear that the goal of authentic ecumenism is the "visible unity between divided Christians."
However, he noted "we must also recognize that, in the final analysis, this unity is a gift from God, and may come to us only from the Father through His Son, because the Church is His Church. From this perspective we see, not only the importance of invoking the Lord for visible unity, but also how striving after this end is relevant to the new evangelization."
"It is good to journey together towards this objective, provided that the Churches and ecclesial communities do not stop along the way, accepting the various contradictions between them as normal or as the best they can hope to achieve. It is, rather, in the full communion of faith, Sacraments and ministry that the strength of God, present and working in the world, will find concrete expression".
Finally, the Pope told those gathered, "Unity is on the one hand the fruit of faith and, on the other, a means - almost a prerequisite - for an increasingly credible proclamation of the faith to those who do not yet know the Savior or who, while having received the proclamation of the Gospel, have almost forgotten this valuable gift."
"True ecumenism, recognizing the primacy of divine action, demands above all patience, humility, and abandonment to the will of the Lord. In the final analysis, ecumenism and new evangelization both require the dynamism of conversion, understood as the sincere desire to follow Christ and to fully adhere to the will of the Father".
Upon his election to the Chair of Peter some observers indicated Pope Benedict's age would make him a "caretaker" Pope. His pace and contributions have demonstrated that those observers were absolutely wrong. He has proven to be an indefatigable and tireless missionary and a treasure to the whole Church.
He is exactly what he said in his self assessment which was given when he began his service, a "simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord" He has written three encyclicals, three apostolic exhortations and two books about Jesus of Nazareth, with the third installment soon to be available.
He is a scholar of the highest order, yet able to communicate with simplicity and beauty, because he is a man of deep prayer; a man in communion with the Risen Lord. He has given continual, deep and spiritually profound teaching to the faithful - including some of the finest hagiography in centuries - during his Wednesday Catechesis.
He made Church history, when Motu Propio, he released the Apostolic Constitution on Groups of Anglicans which began the healing of the divided Western Church. Two Ordinariates have already been formed and more will follow. The fruits of these Ordinariates will be recounted by future historians as among the most important events in the Third Millennium of the Church.
He has earned the great respect of Patriarchs and leaders of the Orthodox Church and is making progress toward some form of communion between Eastern and Western Christianity which could make the Third Millennium a millennium of communion.
He has championed the re-christianizing of Europe and passionately promoted the New Evangelization of the Church - even establishing a new Pontifical Council on the New Evangelization. He has been a champion of the New Ecclesial movements and helped to ensure that they are rooted in the heart of the Church and received as gift for the missionary work of the Church in this hour.
He has doggedly defended the Christian roots of the West and defended religious freedom as a fundamental human right. He has engaged the Islamic world with great charity and courage on the ground of dialogue in truth. He began the "Courts of the Gentiles" outreach engaging atheists and agnostics. Clearly, this is a missionary Pope.
I remember that day, April 20, 2005, when the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI gave his first message at the end of a Mass he had concelebrated with the members of the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel. He signaled his mission:
"Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope in the Upper Room. The Successor of Peter knows that he must make himself especially responsible for his Divine Master's supreme aspiration. Indeed, he is entrusted with the task of strengthening his brethren (cf. Luke 22: 32).
"With full awareness, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter's current Successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty."
The authentic ecumenical mission of restoring the full and visible unity of the Church has been the beating heart of Pope Benedict's years of service in the Chair of St Peter. That is because it reflects Heart of the Lord. "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me." (John 17: 20, 21)
Catholics speak of our Christian friends in other Christian communities who have been validly baptized in accordance with a Trinitarian formula as already being in "imperfect communion" with the One Church. This is why Catholics do not "re-baptize" a Christian from another community who comes into the Catholic Church. We speak of them as coming into "full communion" because they are already joined to the one Church in an "imperfect" or incomplete communion.
The Church is God's Plan for the whole human race. Jesus came to found the Church and begin the New Creation. It is a communion from above into which we enter. It is His Body. He is the Head and we are the members. Through our Baptism the Church becomes our home, our mother, the place in which we now live our lives in Christ.
To perceive and live this reality requires a continuing and dynamic conversion brought about by grace, which is mediated to us through the Sacraments and, most especially through our Eucharistic communion. We are sons and daughters of the Church. In living our lives within her we are enlisted in the mission of carrying forward in time the continuing work of Jesus Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing patristic sources, states: "To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood." (#895)
To this Church has been entrusted the Sacraments (Mysteries), the Word of God, and the gift of a Teaching Office - Magisterium - through which Jesus Christ continues to speak through the Holy Spirit. The Church is not an optional "extra" that we add on to our lives, she is our life and we live our lives now in Christ.
From Christ's wounded side, the Church was birthed at the tree of Calvary, the altar of the new world. Through faith we are invited into this mystery and by grace we come to more fully comprehend and live it as we respond to the ongoing call to conversion and newness of life.
Pope Benedict XVI has remained faithful to the conviction he expressed on the day of his first allocution. It is his 'Impelling Duty to work toward the rebuilding of the full and visible unity of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."
He is fulfilling that duty with prophetic courage. His teaching Magisterium is characterized by orthodoxy (right teaching) and orthopraxy (right practice). It is also characterized by a recovery of the legitimate diversity of expression within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Into a world that is fractured, divided, wounded, filled with "sides" and "camps" at enmity with one another, the Church is called to proclaim, by both word and deed, the unifying love of a living God. The heart of the "Gospel" is the message that in and through Jesus Christ, authentic unity with God - and through Him, in the Spirit, with one another- is not only possible but is the plan of God for the entire human race.
The Church is the way. It was not the Lord's plan that she be divided. It is His Plan that she be restored to full communion. Let us take our lead, as these historic events unfold, from the clear teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These paragraphs are in the section entitled "Wounds to Unity":
"817 In fact, "in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame."
"The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism - do not occur without human sin: Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers.
818 "However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . .
"All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church."
819 "Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth" are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements."
"Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity."
820 "Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time." Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her.
"This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples: "That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may know that you have sent me." The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit."
May the prayer of Jesus, "May they be One" become our prayer - and the mission of the whole Church. The Pope of Christian Unity connects the New Evangelization and the healing of the divisions in the Body of Christ. Do We?
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