On trying to find unity without stressing doctrine

This is a part of me that is comfortable with the Pope’s stress lately on “reconciled diversity” and building relationships and brotherhood with non-Catholic believers, trusting the Holy Spirit will do His job in bringing about unity.

There is another part that is highly uncomfortable because “reconciled diversity” is fine when you are talking about diversity in worship styles —Anglican patrimony here; charismatic hands in the air contemporary music there; Gregorian chant here, Traditional. Latin Mass, —or other kinds of distinctive patrimonial characteristics—Byzantine rite, etc.  But there has to be an agreement on what the Apostolic faith is, what the Church is, what the Eucharist is and so on.

Pope Francis told the priests at Caserta (scroll down and you’ll see a link to the Q&A on this blog) that in dealing with ecumenism one had to be secure in one’s identity.  Well, maybe Pope Francis is secure in his identity as a Catholic–as he once said, “I am a son of the Church” but wow do I not see much faith formation among Catholics.

Someone I was discussing my quandary with sent me this image:



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This is laugh-out-loud funny

Eye of the Tiber:  Man Found Dead After Botched Homily.

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On Vatican media relations by Fr. Raymond de Souza

Fr. Raymond de Souza is a Canadian priest who is also a prolific writer, commentator, columnist and editor of Convivium Magazine.

Here are some excerpts from a piece he wrote for the Catholic Herald:

A few days later, La Repubblica published the third interview that Pope Francis has granted to Eugenio Scalfari, causing headlines around the world about priestly paedophilia and “finding solutions” to the question of priestly celibacy, which the Holy Father said dated from the 10th century, not apostolic times.

Within hours of the interview being published the Holy See press spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, issued a statement reminding everyone that Scalfari neither takes notes nor records his interviews with Pope Francis, so that it is not possible to attribute to the Holy Father what in fact Scalfari attributes to him. The Holy See press office was thus in the awkward position of implying either that the Holy Father was wrong on his facts or that he was imprudent in talking to the unreliable Scalfari again. More than a few observers commented that Lord Patten’s commission could not begin work soon enough.

But that is to confuse two different things. Lord Patten’s commission will not do anything to “find solutions”, to borrow Scalfari’s phrasing, for papal statements. Media problems originating in the papal apartment – whether it be in the apostolic palace or the Domus Sanctae Marthae – cannot be solved by anyone other than the Pope who is the cause of them.


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Ecumenism vs. the demands of the Zeitgeist

Commentary from Let Nothing You Dismay blog:

Clearly, by his wholehearted support of the recent decision of the Church of England’s General Synod to proceed to the ordination of women to the episcopate, the Archbishop of Canterbury believes – without even the slightest hesitation – that the recently invented Anglican ‘tradition’ of women bishops and clergy is of infinitely more importance than unity with the ancient Churches of East and West.
That, however, is not what he says … is it?

For the modern Anglican ‘liberal’ (and no one now becomes an Anglican (Arch)bishop in the west without being such to all intents and purposes) ecumenism is an excellent goal and an engrossing hobby but, regardless of the dominical command, in terms of theological substance it is as light as a feather when weighed in the balance alongside the demands of the zeitgeist. The uncritical adoption of the modern rights and equalities agenda means that the goal of full and visible unity – “full communion” – has been postponed to an indefinite and indeterminable future. And those who are in support of this generation’s radical breaking and remaking of Anglicanism know that very well.

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Report on the Pope’s visit to Caserta

This is from VIS news:

“Le notizie contenute nei servizi del Vatican Information Service possono essere riprodotte parzialmente o totalmente citando la fonte:
V.I. S. – Vatican Information Service – http://www.visnews.org
Copyright © VIS – Vatican Information Service – 00120 Città del Vaticano”


With my emphases:

Unity in diversity and the plea for forgiveness for the lack of understanding shown by some Catholics towards their Pentecostal brothers were the key themes of the Pope’s address at the Pentecostal Church of the Reconciliation in Caserta yesterday, during his meeting with his friend, the pastor Giovanni Traettino, whom he known for many years, both in Buenos Aires and as bishop of Rome, engaged in ecumenism. The meeting took place in a cheerful and intimate atmosphere, and was attended by 200 people, mostly Pentecostals from Italy, the United States and Argentina, as well as other countries. “With men like you”, said Pastor Traettino to his friend, Pope Francis, “there is hope for us, as Christians”.

The Pope’s address responded to the discourse pronounced by Pastor Traettino, who had remarked that the presence of Jesus and walking in the presence of Jesus should be at the centre of our life. Francis remarked that “walk” was God’s first commandment to his people, represented by Abraham – “walk before me faithfully and be blameless” – and added, “I don’t understand a Christian who stands still! I don’t understand a Christian who doesn’t walk. A Christian must walk … because that which is still, that does not move ahead, becomes corrupt. Like still water, which is the first to become stagnant. … There are Christians who confuse walking and moving ahead with moving around. These, instead, are errants who saunter here and there; these are people who lack parrhesia, the boldness to go ahead; they lack hope”.

He went on to cite the story of Jacob who, during a time of famine, sent his eleven sons – ten of whom were guilty of betrayal, having sold their brother Joseph – to Egypt to buy grain. There, they once again found Joseph, who in the meantime had become the vizier. “When we walk in God’s presence, we find brotherhood”, asserted the Pope. “When instead we stop, we scrutinise each other too much, and we set out on another path, that of gossip. … And in this way it begins, from the first moment the division of the Church began. And it is not the Holy Spirit who causes division! … From the very beginning there has been this temptation in the Christian community. ‘I am from this group, you are from that one’, ‘No! I am the Church, you are a sect’, and so on. … The Holy Spirit creates diversity in the Church … diversity, rich and beautiful. But, at the same time, the Holy Spirit creates unity, and so the Church is one in her diversity. To borrow a phrase used by an evangelical, a phrase I love, it is the ‘reconciled diversity’ of the Holy Spirit, Who creates both of these things: diversity in charisms, and harmony in charisms”.

To offer an image of how unity in the Church could be, Pope Francis first described a sphere, all of whose points are equidistant from the centre. This, he said, was an example of uniformity, and “the Holy Spirit does not create uniformity”. “Let us imagine, instead, a polyhedron: it is an example of unity, but with many different parts, each with its own peculiarity and charism. This is unity in diversity. This is the path that we Christians take, giving it the theological name of ecumenism: we seek to ensure that this diversity is harmonised by the Holy Spirit and becomes a unity; we seek to walk in the presence of God to be blameless”.

Pastor Traettino had also referred to the incarnation of Jesus, and the Holy Father responded that “the incarnation of the Word is the foundation – it is Jesus Christ! God and man, Son of God and Son of man, true God and true man. This is how the first Christians understood Him to be and they fought hard to maintain this truth: the Lord is God and man. It is the mystery of Christ’s flesh. … I love the poor, the widow, the slave, the imprisoned. … I love them all, as these people who suffer are Christ’s flesh. … It is not possible to preach a purely intellectual Gospel: the Gospel is the truth but it is also love and beauty! And this is the joy of the Gospel!”.

“On this path, many times we have done the same thing as the brothers of Joseph, when jealous and envy have divided us”, he remarked. “That sad story in which the Gospel for some was lived as truth and they did not realise that behind this attitude there were bad things, things that were not the Lord’s, an ugly attempt at division. That sad history, in which there are repeated the same things that Joseph’s brother did: denouncements, the laws of these people who ‘are against the purity of the race’. … And these laws were ratified by baptised persons! Some of those who enacted these laws, and some of those who persecuted, denounced their pentecostal brothers because they were ‘enthusiastic’, almost ‘crazy’, who spoiled the race. … I am a pastor of Catholics, and I beg forgiveness for this. I ask your forgiveness on behalf of those Catholic brothers and sisters who did not understand and who were tempted by the devil, and who did the same thing that Joseph’s brothers did. I ask the Lord for the grace to recognise and to forgive”.

Pope Francis went on to comment on Pastor Traettino’s words, “The truth is an encounter”. “An encounter between people”, he emphasised. “The truth is not made in a laboratory, it is made in life, seeking Jesus in order to find Him. But the greatest and most beautiful mystery is that when we find Jesus, we realise that He sought us first, that He had found us first, because He arrives before us. I like to use the Spanish verb ‘primerea’ to describe this, meaning that He precedes us, and always awaits us. … That encounter that transforms us: everything comes from that encounter. This is the path of Christian sanctity: seeking Jesus every day in order to meet him, and letting oneself be sought and found by Jesus every day”.

“We are on that path of unity, among brothers”, he concluded. “Some people will be surprised: they will say, the Pope has gone to the evangelicals! He has gone to meet his brothers! Yes! Because – and this is the truth – they came to me first, in Buenos Aires. … And so this friendship began, this closeness between the pastors in Buenos Aires, and here today. I thank you, and I ask you to pray for me, as I need your prayers”.

Following the meeting, in the mid afternoon, the Pope returned to the Vatican by helicopter.


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Fr. Longenecker again on the Pope and Evangelicals

I think he’s got good insight into this:

The good thing about the emergent church movement is that it is vital, enthusiastic and energetic. Furthermore, these Christians are engaged in the kind of grassroots, down to earth, bare bones form of Christianity that also motivates and energizes Pope Francis. I think Francis understands that mainstream Protestants with their progressive agenda and modernist theology and terminal decline have little to offer for the future of world Christianity. He sees instead the vital, simple lifestyles of the best of the Evangelicals and thinks the Catholics could learn from them.

Beneath this is the clash between relative and revealed Christianity. To put it simply, for all their faults, misunderstandings about Catholicism, skewed “prosperity gospel” teachings and denial of elements of Catholic teaching, the Evangelicals believe the old, old story about a sinful humanity for whom God sent his only Son to redeem through his sacrificial death and mighty resurrection. The mainstream Protestants, on the other hand, with whom ecumenical discussions have traditionally taken place, are increasingly overcome by radical modernist, reductionist theology, the feminist/homosexualist agenda and secular relativism.

Coming from South America, Pope Francis has seen the “success” of Protestant Charismatic religion and is wise enough to see what is good about it while also realizing its limitations and faults. Instead of rejecting it in a condemnatory fashion he wants to engage with them, learn from them and find new ways of bringing not just bureaucratic, financial and moral renewal to the church–but also a genuine spiritual renewal.

The emergent church movement is an interesting development in ecumenism. To put it simply, old denominational boundaries are breaking down. Evangelicals are no longer happy to be Baptist, Methodist, Assembly of God or Church of Christ. As the structures are becoming more porous they are also increasingly interested in the theological teachings of different denominations. As a young Baptist seminarian said to me enthusiastically when I asked who he is reading, “We read everybody man. Bultmann, Ratzinger, Aquinas, Calvin…everybody.”

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Some interesting Pope Francis in a Q & A with Caserta priests

From Vatican Radio, with my emphases.

And when I come out of myself, I meet God and I meet others. How do you meet others? From a distance or up close? You must meet them up close, closeness. Creativity, transcendence and closeness. Closeness is a key word: be near. Do not be afraid of anything. Being close. The man of God is not afraid. Paul himself, when he saw many idols in Athens, was not scared. He said to the people: “You are religious, many idols … but, I’ll speak to you about another.” He did not get scared and he got close to them. He also cited poets: “As your poets say…” It’s about closeness to a culture, closeness to people, to their way of thinking, their sorrows, their resentments. Many times this closeness is just a penance, because we need to listen to boring things, to offensive things.

Two years ago, a priest went to Argentina as a missionary. He was from the Diocese of Buenos Aires and he went to a diocese in the south, to an area where for years they had no priest, and evangelicals had arrived. He told me that he went to a woman who had been the teacher of the people and then the principle of the village school. This lady sat him down and began to insult him, not with bad words, but to insult him forcefully: “You abandoned us, we left us alone, and I, who  need of God’s Word, had to go to Protestant worship and I became Protestant”. This young priest, who is meek, who is one who prays, when the woman finished her discourse, said: “Madam, just one word: forgiveness. Forgive us, forgive us. We abandoned the flock.” And the tone of the woman changed. However, she remained Protestant and the priest did not go into the argument of which was the true religion. In that moment, you could not do this. In the end, the lady began to smile and said: “Father, would you like some coffee?” – “Yes, let’s have a coffee.” And when the priest was about to leave, she said: “Stop here, Father. Come.” And she led him into the bedroom, opened the closet and there was the image of Our Lady: “You should know that I never abandoned her. I hid her because of the pastor, but she’s in the home.” It is a story which teaches how proximity, meekness brought about this woman’s reconciliation with the Church, because she felt abandoned by the Church. And I asked a question that you should never ask: “And then, how things turn out? How did things finish?”. But the priest corrected me: “Oh, no, I did not ask anything: she continues to go to Protestant worship, but you can see that she is a woman who prays. She faces the Lord Jesus.” And it did not go beyond that. He did not invite her to return to the Catholic Church. …

But, closeness also means dialogue; you must read in Ecclesiam Suam, the doctrine on dialogue, then repeated by other Popes. Dialogue is so important, but to dialogue two things are necessary: one’s identity as a starting point and empathy toward others. If I am not sure of my identity and I go to dialogue, I end up swapping my faith. You cannot dialogue without starting from your own identity, and empathy, that is not condemning a priori. Every man, every woman has something of their own to give us; every man, every woman has their own story, their own situation and we have to listen to it. Then the prudence of the Holy Spirit will tell us how to respond. Starting from one’s own identity for dialogue, but dialogue is not to do apologetics, although sometimes you have to do it, when we are asked questions that require explanation. Dialogue is a human thing. It is hearts and souls that dialogue, and this is so important! Do not be afraid to dialogue with anyone. It was said of a saint, joking somewhat – I do not remember, I think it was St. Philip Neri, but I’m not sure – that he was also able to dialogue even with the devil. Why? Because he had the freedom to listen all people, but starting from his own identity. He was so sure, but to be sure of one’s identity does not mean proselytizing. Proselytism is a trap, which even Jesus condemns a bit, en passant, when he speaks to the Pharisees and the Sadducees: “You who go around the world to find a proselyte and then you remember that …” But, it’s a trap. And Pope Benedict has a beautiful expression. He said it in Aparecida but I believe he repeated elsewhere: “The Church grows not by proselytism, but by attraction.” And what’s the attraction? It is this human empathy, which is then guided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, what will be the profile of the priest of this century, which is so secularized? A man of creativity, who follows the commandment of God – “create things”; a man of transcendence, both with God in prayer and with the others always; a man who is approachable and who is close to people. To distance people is not priestly and people are fed up of this attitude, and yet it happens all the same. But he who welcomes people and is close to them and dialogues with them does so because he feels certain of his identity, which leads him to have an heart open to empathy. This is what comes to me to say to you in response to your question.


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What would you do if you were threatened like this?

Someone told me a story the other day about a principal in a school who faced a threat of violence.  I think it was in Toronto.  This principal had suspended a student who happened to be the son of either a gang leader or organized crime figure.

As the story went, the criminal showed up in the principal’s office and said:  My son is coming to school tomorrow.  I know where you live. I know where your kids go to school.  My son is coming to school tomorrow.”

And, the principal let the kid come to school.

My first reaction was, what would Jesus do if He were that principal?   The reason we have so little of this kind of thuggery and corruption in North America has been the willingness of people in previous generations to risk their lives for the sake of principle and justice, bequeathing to us a rule of law.  Are we all going to acquiesce at the first sign of extortion?

I have wondered what I would do.  And I’ve been surprised by the reactions of some I’ve told this story to who have said they totally understand the principal’s decision.  After all, his children were threatened.

First of all, I wish I could call down fire like Elijah and have said criminal threatening me be consumed by holy fire on the spot!!!

But most of all, I wish for the love that casts out fear so that I could take a principled stance and not cave in to threats.   Do we trust God enough to make a stand?  To trust that He will protect our children?  Or even if ultimately He did not protect us or our children, to still be willing to die for what’s right?  Oh for that kind of faith.  Totally a supernatural gift and certainly not something I claim to have.

What if standing there with love, one had a word of knowledge about the deep-seated wounds of this violent bully and stopped him right in his tracks with love?

Is there anything worth dying for any more?

As Kathy Shaidle has said repeatedly when we say we don’t know what we would do in situations like this or like those when a gunman starts telling the young men to leave so he can shoot the women “we make cowardice the default position.”

I keep this in mind when I think about our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Pakistan, Nigeria and elsewhere who are facing torture and death  for refusing to recant their faith.  I pray for them.   Are we thinking that if we face this kind of persecution we will stand firm and have courage and not deny Jesus because we’ll have the muscle to stand up for the big persecution when we cave on much smaller examples here at home where it is not nearly so dangerous?



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Fr Longenecker on ten things to remember if you hate ecumenism

All are good, but I especially like this one:

10. Church unity is the work of a lifetime and the work of a moment – It’s the work of a moment in that when we work and pray with other Christians we may have an “Aha” moment when we begin to understand things from a new perspective and our own faith grows through the transaction. They might experience that too, and that’s when the hard work of ecumenism pays off. It is also the work of a lifetime…the lifetime of the church that is…because unity is not going to happen anytime soon. Here there will be a little bit of progress. There a little move forward. Over here it is two steps back after one step forward. Achieving church unity will not happen in our lifetime, but we don’t give up because it is in these small steps forward that we do actually make progress. The Catholic Church thinks in centuries. We must remember that. A new way of thought in one era and a little gesture towards unity might bear much fruit later. Here’s an example: In 1959 Pius XII made an exception to the rule of celibacy allowing a handful of married Lutheran pastor converts to be ordained. In the next papacy the Anglican Archbishop visited the Pope. Just a little step forward. Talks started between Anglicans and Catholics. Obstacles arose, but out of these problems and the precedent set by Pius XII the Pastoral Provision became possible along with the Anglican Use and out of that came the Ordinariate and who knows what future lies in store for the Ordinariate? Maybe wonderful things will happen and many of our separated brothers and sisters will be united. If that does take place why will it have happened? Because Catholics were not cynical about ecumenism and were willing to work on it even though it seemed hopeless.

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Archbishop of Canterbury asks for unity

The Telegraph’s religion affairs editor reports:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has written to Pope Francis in a plea to prevent the ordination of women bishops from derailing plans for the eventual reunification between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.

The Most Rev Justin Welby acknowledged that the vote at the General Synod earlier this month would be a “further difficulty” on the tortuous road towards eventual unity between the two churches which formally separated in the 16th Century.

But in a letter to the Pope and other global church leaders including leading orthodox patriarchs, he asked for prayers for the Church of England, telling them: “We need each other.”

The letter argues that there is more that unites the churches than divides them and that they should not let differences over issues like women bishops prevent them standing together on major global questions.

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