Skip to content

Robert Morrison: This Lutheran's Sainted Popes

By Robert Morrison
5/9/2014 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

This Polish Pope, surviving and thriving through 40 years of atheist Communist tyranny, could still echo the words of the Archangel to the Blessed Virgin Mary: Be not afraid.

The truth was becoming increasingly clear that what LCMS President Dr. Ralph Bohlmann called "ethical ecumenism"-our strong agreement with Catholics on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death, our sincere concurrence on the importance of marriage, and our mutually respectful defense of religious liberty--was healing the divisions of centuries. We may not yet be in full communion, but we are ready to stand with one another and to honor each Christian leader's efforts to speak truth to power in an increasingly hostile media world. That's why I as a Lutheran can celebrate the canonization of these two Catholic Popes

Saints John Paul II and John XXIII

Saints John Paul II and John XXIII

WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - The forthcoming birthday (May 18th) of Saint John Paul has given me occasion to reflect on this great man's legacy. He was the one who taught us all that everyone deserves a birth day. And it's an occasion for reflection on my own gift of long life.

I graduated from high school the month Pope John XXIII died. Even so, I felt the winds of change from the windows he had opened. With the Vatican II Council underway at this genial Pope's call, my Catholic relatives were excited about the new aggiornamento-updating-they were seeing.

We had only recently elected the first Catholic U.S. president, John F. Kennedy.  Now, it seemed, historic divisions were coming together.  Protestants were not becoming Catholic, nor Catholics becoming Protestant. But there was a new found mutual respect. We Protestants were now being called "Separated Brethren." That had a warm and embracing sound to it.

Unchurched then, I joked that my loving family was divided between Catholics and Protestants and I was always seated on the Protestant side at the reunions. The church we didn't go to was definitely the Protestant one.

When I came to faith in Christ, however, I knew which Protestant church I would not join. It was one of those that constantly preached against the Catholics. As it turned out, my newfound faith,  my pro-life convictions, and my love for history impelled me to join The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). Serving then in the U.S. Coast Guard, I had been ministered to by the powerful biblical preaching of an LCMS Navy chaplain.

In October, 1978, I was on a Coast Guard cutter in the middle of the Bering Sea when word came across our teletype machine of a second convening of the College of Cardinals in Rome. We were at first confused by the chattering teletype message printed on the yellow roll of paper. But, here, yes, they were in a conclave again. The new Pope, John Paul I, had suddenly died!

We were in the midst of the Soviet fishing fleet when we received the first words of another Pope-a Pole! Around us were arrayed the red hammer-and-sickle flags of our Cold War adversary. I could hardly be more separated from Rome as one of those Separated Brethren. And yet the news from Rome brought us the first words to the City and to the World from this new Pope: Be not afraid!

My brother officers-especially my Catholic and Evangelical shipmates-were thrilled by this message. I certainly was. Our duty in boarding Soviet trawlers could be dangerous. At any moment, we might find ourselves in the midst of an international incident. Might our cutter inadvertently stray across the border between the Big Diomede and Little Diomede islands? It was the only place on earth where the United States and the Soviet Union faced each other warily across a common border.

We soon learned what Be Not Afraid meant to this Polish Pope. As the young Karol Wojtyla, he had sought refuge with his Polish army officer father in the East when the Nazis invaded his homeland on September 1, 1939. Within days, however, he and his father learned of the Soviet invasion from the East. They decided to return to their home and risk life under the German occupiers. That move doubtless saved young Karol's life. Stalin's secret police shot thousands of Polish army officers and secretly buried their bodies in the Katyn forest. Karol and his father might well have been among them.

Even returning to his home, however, was fraught with danger. One of his brother seminarians, a close friend studying with him under the revered Adam Cardinal Sapieha, was swept up by the Gestapo and killed. The Nazi scythe passed very close to the neck of Karol, this would-be priest.

And yet this Polish Pope, surviving and thriving through 40 years of atheist Communist tyranny, could still echo the words of the Archangel to the Blessed Virgin Mary: Be not afraid.

Soon, I got out of the Coast Guard and married. My wife and I were on our honeymoon in a California Alpine village. We had been happy to get out of San Francisco, the city of our wedding, because that was the week when bodies were brought back from the mass suicide at Jonestown. In that same week, Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated in City Hall.

We didn't want to see a newspaper or television report. Except that we couldn't avoid the news of Pope John Paul II taking his first vacation. He was in the Alps skiing! The headline read: Pope on the Slope and it filled our hearts with hope.

Moving East, I was recruited for a job with the Catholic dioceses of Connecticut. But I'm a Lutheran, I told my interviewers. That's okay, said Bill Wholean, my would-be boss. He wanted to show his fellow faithful Catholics that the Church's pro-life message was for everyone. "It's like the TV ad," Bill joked. "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's Real Jewish Rye." Well, you don't have to be Catholic to understand the pro-life message.

For three years, I worked faithfully for the four Catholic dioceses of Connecticut. One time, I attended a weekend convention of the other, more liberal Lutheran denomination. It was being held in Hartford at the Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph. I had my booth and my literature for the pan-Lutheran group, Lutherans for Life.

When the convention organizers learned I was not there to sell life insurance, they tried to kick me out. I protested I had paid the registration fee and was not causing trouble. "We're going to call Security," they threatened.

"Okay," I said, "but I work for Archbishop Whealon. He's your host. The Hartford Courant might find it a good story how Lutherans were kicking a Lutheran out of a Catholic Cathedral because he's pro-life." I stayed.

I was certainly more in line with the Archbishop and the good folks who generously maintained that great cathedral than these liberal convention organizers were. It was during that time that I made a point of reading all the Encyclicals of Pope John Paul II.

Especially important to me was his majestic Evangelium Vitae-the Gospel of Life. That powerful statement of Christian doctrine for the defense of defenseless unborn children was a unifying message.

Then, in 1983, I was excited to see "my" Pope visiting a Lutheran church in Rome. He was cordially greeted by the pastor of Christus Kirche, Dr. Christoph Meyer. Dr. Meyer was dressed in a black clerical gown and skullcap and a white 16th century ruff. I liked that. (It was about time we Lutherans showed some press savvy.)

This was the first visit of a Catholic Pope to a Lutheran congregation in history. But Pope John Paul II was always making history, it seemed. The Pope said in that Quincentennial Year "the commemoration of the birth of the reformer Martin Luther makes the ecumenical question particularly important this year."  He greeted my fellow Lutherans as ""brothers and sisters in Christ."

The visit went off most warmly. I would sometimes tease my Catholic family and friends. "You know, the Pope got a friendlier, more respectful reception from those Roman Lutherans than he got from some of those radical American nuns!"

Humor or not, the truth was becoming increasingly clear that what LCMS President Dr. Ralph Bohlmann called "ethical ecumenism"-our strong agreement with Catholics on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death, our sincere concurrence on the importance of marriage, and our mutually respectful defense of religious liberty--was healing the divisions of centuries.

We may not yet be in full communion, but we are ready to stand with one another and to honor each Christian leader's efforts to speak truth to power in an increasingly hostile media world.
That's why I as a Lutheran can celebrate the canonization of these two Catholic Popes.

-----
Robert Morrison is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council.

---


'Help give every student and teacher Free resources for a world-class moral Catholic education'


Copyright 2017 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for OCTOBER 2017
Workers and the Unemployed.
That all workers may receive respect and protection of their rights, and that the unemployed may receive the opportunity to contribute to the common good.


Comments


More U.S.

A Thanksgiving Day Reflection on the Goodness of America Watch

Image of My first Thanksgiving Day celebration

Through the intercession of our nation's saints, we pray for the protection and well being of America. This is God's country. Let us ... continue reading


Fr. Randy Sly on Thanksgiving and Our Roots of Faith Watch

Image of Ceremonies and periods of thanksgiving are woven through the entire tapestry of history. We find them in the Jewish Calendar of Feasts, in other world religions, in European cultures and native practices of North America, South America, Asia and Africa.

Thanksgiving Day has become a time when we watch parades and then take in large amounts of food and football. According to some ... continue reading


Deacon Keith Fournier on Thanksgiving Day and the Need to Return to God Watch

Image of Thanksgiving meal

On this Thanksgiving Day we will gather around the table as families and give thanks to God for the liberty and bounty He has given to us ... continue reading


Who is serving in the President's Cabinet? Here's the list Watch

Image of The President's Cabinet in March, shortly after it was initially formed. At the time of this image, four seats remained unfilled.

Some Americans may not know who is on the President's cabinet. The following list is provided for informational purposes and is accurate as ... continue reading


The FBI may investigate Planned Parenthood Watch

Image of It is hoped the FBI will investigate the criminal activities of Planned Parenthood.

An FBI request for un-redacted Planned Parenthood documents from the U.S. Senate could signal an investigation into whether the abortion ... continue reading


Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Information
Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Services
Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on catholic.org

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Education
Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

Catholic Online MasterClass
Learn from experts

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Catholic Media Missionaries
The New Evangelization

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Socials
Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.