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Comfortable in our Catholic Skin: Reject Triumphalism, Embrace the Call to Christian Unity
By Deacon Keith Fournier
August 26th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
Triumphalism is not the way toward Christian unity. It is not being comfortable in our Catholic skin. We need to reject it. One of the most difficult obstacles in making progress toward the visible unity of the Church is the reticence of some Catholics to accept the leadership of the Magisterium, the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the clear teaching of the Catholic Church on its priority.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - In response to a recent review I wrote of the television program, Duck Dynasty, entitled Duck Dynasty Breaks Cable Records: Robertson Family Moves Hearts with Authentic Christian Faith and my reference to the Robertson family as demonstrating "authentic faith" - a reader strongly objected. This was not the first time he has objected to my affirmation of the sincerity of the faith of some Christians of other communities.
However, he was more perturbed than in times past. Here are his words: "The cast must be Catholic if they have an "authentic Christian Faith." Remember, Deacon Keith, for the umpteenth time, there is una fides - one Faith. Objectively speaking, Protestants don't have Faith, they have opinions based on private judgment not ultimately on the authority of God."
Well, I will not use the reader's name but this comment requires a response concerning how Catholics should view and treat fellow Christians of other Christian communities.
I begin by affirming that I fully embrace the Catholic teaching that the fullness of truth is found within the Catholic Church. Because of that I also carry an immense burden to see the Prayer of Jesus in John 17 answered. There is a vital connection between the two affirmations. Into a world that is fractured, divided, wounded, filled with sides and camps at enmity with one another, the Catholic Church is called to proclaim, by both word and deed, the unifying love of a living God.
Of all Christians, Catholics have the highest obligation to work toward authentic Christian unity. There is an adage in the Gospels which has an important application in this arena, "To those to whom much is given, much more will be required" (Luke 12:48). If the fullness of truth subsists in the Catholic Church, that should not make us haughty, but humble! There is no room for triumphalism, rather the divisions among Christians should break our hearts and call us to our knees.
In a teaching on the Church as the Body of Christ given during a Wednesday audience of June 19, 2013, Pope Francis made an inspiring, personal and extemporaneous comment. It revealed what his life work has revealed for years. Throughout his service as Priest, Bishop and Cardinal, and now Pope, this humble man of God named Jorge Mario Bergoglio clearly hears the passionate Prayer of Jesus Christ:
"I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21so 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 17:21)
Here are his heartfelt words: "Divisions among us, but also divisions among the communities: evangelical Christians, orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians, but why divided? We must try to bring about unity. Let me tell you something, today, before leaving home, I spent 40 minutes more or less, half an hour, with an evangelical pastor. And we prayed together, seeking unity."
"But we Catholics must pray with each other and other Christians. Pray that the Lord gift us unity! Unity among ourselves! How will we ever have unity among Christians if we are not capable of having it among us Catholics, in the family, how many families fight and split up? Seek unity, unity builds the Church and comes from Jesus Christ. He sends us the Holy Spirit to build unity!"
Sounds very different than my readers comment doesn't it?
The commitment to unity of Pope Francis steps right into the trajectory of his two predecessors, Blessed John Paul II and His Holiness Benedict XVI. The sincerity of his quest for healing the divisions between Christians is expressed in both word and his deed. The comfortable way in which he shared from his heart that he had prayed with an evangelical Protestant pastor before giving his Wednesday Catechesis made my heart leap. He is what I am calling "comfortable in his Catholic skin".
I have spent years praying and working with evangelical protestants and orthodox Christians, co laboring in the trenches of the culture on the great challenges of our neo-pagan age. I am so very happy to have the Pope make it so clear that this is part of our task, our call and our mission. For those who followed the selection of Cardinal Bergoglio as Pope, this came as no surprise. One of his evangelical friends from Argentina, protestant evangelist Luis Palau, was straightforward and enthusiastic about his friendship and prayer with Francis.
His interview with Christianity Today, given the day after the Pope was selected, is well worth the read for anyone wondering where this Pope is headed as he steps into the trajectory of his predecessors and responds to the imperative of healing the divisions among Christians.
An emerging scholar and leader among evangelical Protestants in the United States, Timothy George, the dean of Beeson Divinity School, also wrote a piece for the same publication which is a must read. It is entitled, Our Francis, Too: Why we can enthusiastically join arms with the Catholic leader. George wrote:
On March 20, 2013, Francis spoke these words to delegates of the Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the West: "Let us all be intimately united to our Savior's prayer at the Last Supper, to his invocation: ut unum sint. We call on the merciful Father to be able to fully live the faith that we have received as a gift on the day of our Baptism, and to be able to it free, joyful and courageous testimony. The more we are faithful to his will, in thoughts, in words and in deeds, the more we will truly and substantially walk towards unity."
The Gospel proclaims that in and through Jesus Christ, authentic unity with God - and through Him, in the Spirit, with one another- is the plan of God for the entire human race. The Church is the way to that unity. For the Church to continue the redemptive mission of Jesus effectively, she must be one. It was not the Lord's plan that she be divided. It is His Plan that she be restored to full communion.
I am one of many who called Benedict XVI the Pope of Christian Unity. He placed the full communion of the Church at the forefront of his Papacy. This was clear in his overtures toward our Orthodox brethren, whom we recognize as a Church and whose priesthood and Sacraments we recognize. It was evident in his outreach to the separated Christians of the Reformation communities of the West.
On the 4th anniversary of the death of Blessed John Paul II, Benedict reminded us of John Paul's passionate commitment to the full communion of the Church. That teaching is summarized in the Encyclical Letter May they be One (Ut Unum Sint).To be Catholic is to enter into the prayer of Jesus for the Unity of His Church, and to make it our own, in word and deed.
In Benedict XVI's first message as the successor of Peter he signaled his commitment to this unity: "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."
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