Written by Sherry
Saturday, 22 March 2008 12:08
Fr. Cantalamessa's homily for the liturgy of Good Friday at St. Peter's (with Pope Benedict celebrating, of course) was about Christian unity. A most interesting topic in light of the many discussions here and around St. Blog's about Catholic identity.
Here are some highlights:
The Holy Father recalled this in a homily he gave on Jan. 25 in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls at the end of Christian Unity Week: "Unity with God and our brothers and sisters," he wrote, "is a gift that comes from on high, which flows from the communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit in which it is increased and perfected. It is not in our power to decide when or how this unity will be fully achieved. Only God can do it! Like St Paul, let us also place our hope and trust 'in the grace of God which is with us.'"
Today as well, the Holy Spirit will be the one to lead us into unity, if we let him guide us. How was it that the Holy Spirit brought about the first fundamental unity of the Church, that between Jews and pagans? The Holy Spirit descends upon Cornelius and his whole household in the same way in which he descended upon the apostles at Pentecost. So, Peter only needed to draw the conclusion: "If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?" (Acts 11:17).
For a century now, we have seen the same thing repeat itself before our eyes on a global scale. God has poured out the Holy Spirit in a new and unusual way upon millions of believers from every Christian denomination and, so that there would be no doubts about his intentions, he poured out the Spirit with the same manifestations. Is this not a sign that the Spirit moves us to recognize each other as disciples of Christ and work toward unity?
It is true that this spiritual and charismatic unity is not enough by itself. We see this already at the beginning of the Church. The newly formed unity between Jews and Gentiles was immediately threatened by schism. In the so-called Council of Jerusalem there was a "long discussion" and at the end an agreement was reached and announced to the Church with the formula: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us..." (Acts 15:28). The Holy Spirit works, therefore, also through another way, which is that of patient exchange, dialogue and even compromise between the different sides, when the essentials of the faith are not in play. He works through human "structures" and the "offices" put in action by Jesus, above all the apostolic and petrine office. It is that which today we call doctrinal and institutional ecumenism.
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However, experience is convincing us that even this doctrinal ecumenism is not sufficient and does not advance matters if it is not also accompanied by a foundational spiritual ecumenism.
The extraordinary thing about this way to unity based on love is that it is already now wide open before us. We cannot be hasty in regard to doctrine because differences exist and must be resolved with patience in the appropriate contexts. We can instead "be hasty" in charity and already be united in that sense now. The true, certain sign of the coming of the Spirit, St. Augustine writes, is not speaking in tongues, but it is the love of unity: "Know that you have the Holy Spirit when you allow your heart to adhere to unity through sincere charity."
One thing must move us forward on this journey. What is in play at the beginning of the third millennium, is not the same as what was in play at the beginning of the second millennium, when there was the separation of East and West; nor is it the same as what was in play in the middle of the same millennium when there was the separation of Catholics and Protestants. Can we say that the way the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or how justification of the sinner comes about are the problems that impassion the men of today and with which the Christian faith stands or falls? The world has moved beyond us and we remain fixed by problems and formulas that the world does not even know the meaning of.
From this we see that today there are two possible ecumenisms: an ecumenism of faith and an ecumenism of incredulity; one that unites all those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that Christ died to save all humankind, and an ecumenism that unites all those who, in deference to the Nicene Creed, continue to proclaim these formulas but empty them of their content. It is an ecumenism in which, in its extreme form, everyone believes the same things because no one any longer believes anything, in the sense that "believing" has in the New Testament.
"Who is it that overcomes the world," John writes in his first letter, "if not those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1John 5:5). Sticking with this criterion, the fundamental distinction among Christians is not between Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, but between those who believe that Christ is the Son of God and those who do not believe this.