Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"I Am Not Alone"

...more than just sometimes, however -- especially on seeing shots like this one -- you can't help but feel for the poor guy.
"And now, at this moment, weak servant of God that I am, I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity. How can I do this? How will I be able to do it? All of you, my dear friends, have just invoked the entire host of Saints, represented by some of the great names in the history of God’s dealings with mankind. In this way, I too can say with renewed conviction: I am not alone. I do not have to carry alone what in truth I could never carry alone. All the Saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me and to carry me. And your prayers, my dear friends, your indulgence, your love, your faith and your hope accompany me."
Homily, Mass for the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry
24 April 2005

This week's audience topic: Christian unity, the Week of Prayer for which begins tomorrow, preceded by today's customary observance of shared reflection and fellowship between Christians and Jews:
A “long and not difficult journey” will lead Christians to their unity but we “must not be discouraged.” Instead, we must “continue it,” first of all through prayers “every day” that it may occur but also through charitable work that show Christians’ shared understanding....

Benedict XVI told his audience that in a few countries, including Italy, “the Week is preceded by a day of Jewish-Christian reflection which we celebrate today”. This day is meant to “promote awareness” and “develop the relationship based on respect and friendship between Jews and Christians”. Their relationship, he stressed, further “developed” after the Second Vatican Council and John Paul II’s “historic visit” to Rome’s main synagogue on April 13, 1986.

“Friendship between Jews and Christians,” he added, “must be based on praying for all if we want it to be fruitful.” Similarly, he urged Jews and Christians to show mutual “respect and esteem and work together for justice and peace in the world.”

Speaking about the Week of Prayer”, Benedict XVI reminded his audience that this year the topic taken from the Bible was about making the deaf hear and the mute speak, taking its inspiration for the healing of the deaf-mute as told in the Gospel of Mark. Every Christian, “spiritually deaf and mute because of the original sin,” through the baptism received the means to hear the word of God and proclaim it to his brothers. Or better still, from this moment Christians are given the responsibility of maturing in the awareness and love of Christ so as to be able to announce the Gospel.

Announcing the Gospel and bearing witness about charity—i.e. “every comfort Christians may concretely bring to others’ suffering”— “will favour,” in the Pope’s words, “the journey towards unity”.

“The harmony of purpose to alleviate man’s suffering, the search for truth, the conversion of one’s life and repentance are necessary steps each Christian must take”.

However, “praying for unity cannot be limited to a week per year. It must be done every day of the year” so that “significant steps can be taken on the path to full and perfect communion.”

Speaking of Unity Week, The Tablet has a piece in the current edition on the new interdenominational alliances forged from shared political ends, as opposed to theological vicinity; the writer is a recent convert.

Cooperation between low-church and high-church groups, or between evangelicals and Catholics, is anchored in traditional family values, sexual ethics and occasionally on a critical attitude towards the increasingly multicultural character of our societies. When we move beyond these issues, however, the theological - let alone ecclesiological - basis of the alliances is both vague and modestly developed. Possibly the chief link here is provided by the identification of a common enemy, namely "liberalism" and "modernism".

Lately, "political ecumenism" even seems to have had implicit repercussions on an official level. One example of this is that the most promising dialogue - theologically speaking - between Anglicans and Roman Catholics has been put on hold because of problems within the Anglican Communion. Yet surely the best response when sisters and brothers argue would be more dialogue, not less.

The agenda of the coalitions between evangelicals and Catholics appears to be strongly influenced by the evangelical partner. However, conservative converts play a vital role here too. This observation is meant in a self-critical way. I am myself a fairly recent convert to Catholicism. I can appreciate that there is a certain reluctance to enter into close cooperation with the Church one has just decided to leave. Still, it would be regrettable if we allow such sentiments to develop into militant "convert sectarianism", which easily occurs if a conversion is motivated primarily by criticism and not by the desire for something new. In my case, the longing to live a full sacramental life was the key factor rather than a desperate urge to get away from the Church I was born into and from which I received the precious gift of baptism....

In spite of obvious theological discrepancies, there are also signs that evangelical practices have entered the Roman Catholic Church, through, for example, music and lyrics that are marked by an unmistakably neo-pietistic or neo-charismatic spirit.

The new "political ecumenism" opens up a diversity bordering on confusion in the field of ecclesiology and sacramental theology while applying a far more uniformistic approach to ethical challenges. Here diversity is seen as a threat to our society and not as a gift. At the same time, one tends to forget that the Catholic vision requires inclusiveness, the beauty of the open mind and solidarity.

Seen against this background, my characterisation of notable parts of the approximation between evangelicals and Catholics as a superficial political alliance may be justified. It is a coalition based on an odd mixture of good-old-days values and neo-conservative ideological beliefs. As already pointed out, the common enemy is "liberalism" and "modernism" - ironically ignoring the wildly liberal economic policy of neo-conservatism and its total surrender to what may be labelled as market-fundamentalism. But the theological worth of such alliances is meagre.

When it comes to ecumenism today, there is little doubt that the Anglican tradition - particularly as this tradition has been developed over the past 150 years - is the "Western" church family that stands theologically closest to the Roman Catholic Church. Our theological consensus is obscured by the fact that our Churches have chosen different paths in their responses to ethical challenges. However, these challenges are more complicated than they may appear when they are observed through spectacles provided by the neo-conservative value-rhetorics. And discrepancies in this area do not overrule either our agreement on crucial doctrinal issues or our common goal of visible unity.

Reuters/Tony Gentile