Tag Archives: ecumenism

Dialogue, Peace, and Evangelization

11 Mar

Pope Francis5Pope Francis devotes a section of his apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”) to the role of social dialogue in the promotion of peace (EG 238-58). He considers this a significant part of the Church’s overall mission to carry the Gospel out to all the world. He cites three specific areas of dialogue: with states, with society (including cultures and sciences), and with believers who are not members of the Catholic Church (EG 238).

The Church supports the efforts of the State to promote peace in ways that respond to the dignity of the human person and promote the common good (EG 241). While this may sound too grandiose for the average believer, the Holy Father also reminds us that every baptized person is called to be “a peacemaker and a credible witness to a reconciled life” (EG 239).

Dialogue between science and faith is also part of the work of evangelization at the service of peace. The Holy Father calls for a synthesis of empirical science and other areas of knowledge, especially philosophy and theology. The new evangelization must be attentive to scientific advances and “shed on them the light of faith and the natural law” (EG 242). The Church delights in the progress and potential of science. Problems occur only when science—or faith—exceeds the limit of its respective competence. At that point, the issue is not one of truth, but of ideologies that can only block “the path to authentic, serene, and productive dialogue” (EG 243).

When the Holy Father speaks of “other believers” (EG 238) he is referring to both ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. He sees ecumenism as “a contribution to the unity of the human family” (EG 245). He is painfully conscious of the counter-witness of division among Christians, especially in Asia and Africa. In light of the vast numbers of people who have not received the Gospel, “our commitment to a unity that helps them to accept Jesus Christ can no longer be a matter of mere diplomacy or forced compliance, but rather an indispensable path to evangelization” (EG 246).

Pope Francis accords Judaism a special place among non-Christian religions. After all, the Church looks upon the Jewish faith as one of the sacred roots of our own Christian identity (cf. Romans 11:16-18). The Holy Father cites our current friendship with the Jewish people as well as our bitter regret for past persecutions and injustices (EG 248). While we must always proclaim Jesus as Lord and Messiah, we continue to share the Hebrew Scriptures with them as well as many ethical convictions (EG 249).

The Pope says that “interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as for other religious communities” (EG 250). Here he stresses the close relationship between dialogue and proclamation. We need to be clear and joyful regarding our own convictions and identity, while also being open to understanding those of other faiths in a spirit of candor and goodwill (EG 251). Pope Francis singles out dialogue with Islam as especially important in our time. One comment he made that I found especially eye-opening was this: “[O]ur respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (EG 253).

The Holy Father concludes this section with some consideration of religious freedom, a fundamental human right that includes “the freedom to choose the religion that one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public” (EG 255).  Redefining religious liberty as a right that only applies in private consciences and inside church buildings is “a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism” (EG 255). Respect can be given to non-believers without silencing the convictions of the believing majority. Such a heavy-handed approach can only feed resentment, not  tolerance and peace.

In all of this, the Holy Father is relentlessly stressing the social dimension of the Gospel, which beckons all of us to “get our shoes dirty”—to boldly bring the Gospel to the world in words, attitudes, and deeds (EG 258).

Pope Francis’ Intentions for January

3 Jan

ecumenism2Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Francis for the month of January, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Economic Development.   That all may promote authentic economic development that respects the  dignity of all peoples.
  • Christian Unity.   That Christians of diverse denominations may walk toward the unity  desired by Christ.

January is always a good month to pray for Christian unity, given the fact that Christian Unity Week is usually observed toward the end of the month.  January is also a good month to pray for the end of legalized abortion in this country and for a renewed respect for all human life, in observance of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22, 2014. For more information on that, check out the March for Life site.

Jumping Through Hoops

14 May

Jason CollinsLast week journeyman NBA player Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete to play on a major men’s U.S. sports team. His “coming out” became the lead story on ESPN and other sports media, and it was generally celebrated as a historic event for the advancement of our culture, much like Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color barrier in baseball over a half-century ago.

One expects diverse, uninformed opinions on talk radio and in the blogosphere. Still, it seems that even much of the more dignified commentary is off the mark. For that reason, I thought I would offer a “top ten” list of my initial reactions to Collins’ announcement, realizing that all these points barely scratch the surface of this momentous societal issue.

(1) Play Ball Let’s start by saying that nobody, including the Catholic Church, is claiming that Jason Collins or other publicly “gay” athletes should not be allowed to compete on professional sports teams. Public acceptance of homosexual liaisons does have negative repercussions, but surely those with same-sex attractions must be treated with love and compassion. It would be unjust discrimination to bar them from pursuing their livelihood (cf. Catechism, no. 2358).

So let’s be clear—Collins’ announcement has nothing to do with his ability to earn his living, but everything to do with the advancement of a social agenda that is at loggerheads with Christianity.

(2) Is He a Hero? There are well over 60 million Catholics in this country whose professed faith–rooted both in Scripture and the natural law (cf. Catechism, nos. 1954-60, 2036, 2357)—teaches that homosexual acts are serious sins. This view of homosexuality is shared by tens of millions of other Christians, as well as many who have arrived at their conclusion based on their perception of reality (cf. Rom. 1:18-32).

One can appreciate a certain level of honesty and even courage in Collins’ announcement, but Christians justifiably recoil at the suggestion that Collins is now some sort of hero or pioneer in a positive sense.  The true heroes are those who quietly struggle perhaps a lifetime to control their disordered passions.

(3) National Conversation? Many news outlets talk a good game about the “national conversation” that Jason Collins’ announcement has produced, as if now we can finally have a free exchange of ideas and viewpoints on this subject. So, in the midst of such a discussion on ESPN, pro basketball commentator Chris Broussard said, “I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is.”

A Catholic would do well to express his or her position so succinctly and articulately. Yet Broussard’s comments were unwanted (Google “Chris Broussard Jason Collins” for a sampling of the reaction). ESPN offered its regrets that his personal viewpoint was a “distraction,” and reiterated that “ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement.”

In other words, ESPN is fully on board with the gay agenda, and does not welcome other points of view. Beyond the chilling effect of ESPN’s reaction to one of its own, we see the network’s duplicity in purporting to be open to an exchange of ideas on the subject.

(4) Is It Right? The larger problem here is that our culture has relegated the moral law to the level of private opinion. (And especially in the area of sexuality, please keep your opinions to yourself.)

Therefore, anything that isn’t a crime in the government’s eyes must be tolerated in the name of “diversity” or a distorted understanding of “liberty.”  And in the name of tolerance the media will not tolerate any discussion as to whether it’s “good” to act upon one’s same-sex attraction, whether it’s “good” to identify oneself by one’s sexual preference, and whether it’s “good” to seek (and give!) public approval to behavior that the vast majority of peoples and cultures throughout human history has considered unacceptable.

(5) We’re Compromised The Collins announcement is just one more case-in-point that our sex-obsessed culture is compromised when it comes to sexual morality. If we as a people are willing to turn a blind eye to our nation’s pornography addiction, not to mention our society’s acceptance of the widest range of “heterosexual sins,” then it’s not surprising that many people do not feel as though they can do anything but go along with the gay agenda.

After all, if we were to acknowledge moral standards, we’d be obliged to do our best with God’s grace to live by them. I suspect many people are not ready to do that.

(6) What About Tebow? Ironically perhaps, about the same time Jason Collins made his announcement the New York Jets cut quarterback Tim Tebow. Neither Collins nor Tebow are elite players in their sport (though Tebow was elite during his collegiate career), but both find themselves immersed in media attention. Yet the coverage of Tebow, by all accounts a virtuous, openly Christian man, is mostly negative—and not just in terms of his deficiencies as an NFL quarterback. There is frequent mention of teams not wanting him because of the “media circus” caused in large part by his commitment to Jesus Christ.  Players and teams are free in their comments about not wanting someone like him in the locker room.

When it comes to Collins, however, the focus is simply on his being a good teammate. Players are not allowed to express any discomfort with having Collins on their team. We saw the same phenomenon at work before the Super Bowl, when 49er Chris Culliver was raked over the coals for saying that he would rather not have a “gay” teammate.

(7)  Private Lives We frequently hear that the Church and the State should stay out of the bedroom and not meddle in the “private lives” of consenting adults. Yet, Collins’ “private” sexual preference was all we heard about on the news last week. Those of us who like to watch sports with our children should be able to enjoy scores and highlights without the R-rated social commentary.

And yet, with due regard for the innocence of our children, marriage and sexuality indeed is a public matter, as marriages create families, which are the building blocks of a healthy society. That is why marriages are a matter of public and ecclesial record, with witnesses and lavish celebrations. And that is why the State and especially the Church exercise appropriate authority in this area.

(8) Not Born That Way The popular assumption, not corroborated by science or the leaders of the gay rights movement itself, is that homosexual men and women are irremediably “born that way.”

Same-sex attractions, like all disordered sexual attractions, can be strong and deep-seated. However, like all strong sexual desires, there’s an element of choice when it comes to working against or even healing this inclination versus embracing the “gay lifestyle.”

It’s interesting that when it comes to homosexuality at least, the secularists do not uphold the ability to “choose.” Yet following one’s sexual feelings no matter where they lead is a recipe for personal misery. Conversely, there are many Christians who have overcome same-sex attractions and have gone on to live joyful, chaste lives.

Further, as Archbishop Naumann masterfully described in a recent column in The Leaven, many young people in their formative years experience some confusion regarding their sexual identity and orientation. The public support and approval of homosexuality witnessed in Collins’ announcement could surely encourage young people at a pivotal time in their lives to enter a homosexual lifestyle that would threaten their physical, spiritual, and moral health.

(9) Uncivil Rights The Collins story vividly demonstrates that the media will portray those of us who stand up for sexual morality and the good of families and children in a negative light. We simply are on the wrong side of a civil rights issue. By (erroneously) presenting sexual preference as something that is genetically established at birth and unchangeable, gay activists have effectively duped much of the public into thinking that full acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle is an “equality” issue.

Deep down we know, as a matter of faith but also of reason and common sense, that God created us as “male and female,” not “gay and straight” (leaving aside, for a moment, the bisexual and transsexual communities). The biological complementarity of man and woman is unmistakably stamped on our bodies, but we’ve been guzzling the Kool-Aid for so long that we’re simply blinded to this reality.

(10) Absence of Moral Leadership Rather than offer any sort of moral leadership, our President and First Lady were among the first to applaud Jason Collins’ announcement and tell him “We’ve got your back.”

Now we see that Jason Collins and Michelle Obama will headline a May 29 Democratic fundraiser at the party’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership Council gala event. Sadly, our government leaders are part of the problem, not part of the solution here.

Much more can and should be said about this, but those are some of the thoughts I’ve had recently. What was your reaction to Jason Collins’ announcement?

Winning Souls, Not Arguments

10 Jan

ecumenismAfter our Christmas hiatus, we continue this series on the documents of Vatican II with some reflections on the 1964 Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio, or “Restoration of Unity”).

Ecumenism, or the building of unity among Christians, was one of the pastoral priorities of Vatican II. It’s not surprising, then, that an entire conciliar document would be devoted to this topic. The emphasis on ecumenism is brought home in the opening paragraph of the Decree on Ecumenism:

“The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided (1 Cor. 1:13). Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.”

Since Vatican II, Catholics at all levels have grown in our ecumenical sensibilities. As Blessed John Paul II noted in his 1995 encyclical on the subject (Ut Unum Sint, or “That They May Be One”), ecumenism “is not just some sort of ‘appendix’ which is added to the Church’s traditional activity,” but rather “an organic part of her life and work” that “must pervade all that she is and does” (Ut Unum Sint, no. 20).

I think most Catholics instinctively “get it,” but it doesn’t always play out very well in our encounters with non-Catholic Christians. There are a couple reasons for this.

First, in my opinion, we tend to treat ecumenism and apologetics (the art of explaining and defending the reasonableness of our faith) as mutually exclusive or even opposing disciplines. I’m sure we’ve encountered an approach to ecumenism that so emphasized principles such as “unity,” “charity,” and “communion” that real doctrinal differences were overlooked—either out of ignorance or to avoid perceived conflict.

We’ve also encountered an approach to apologetics that promoted doctrinal correctness in a harsh or unattractive way—hardly a recipe for “Christian unity.”

The problem is that we sometimes put too much emphasis on the argument rather than the person. When that occurs, apologetics is reduced to winning arguments and ecumenism is wrongly viewed as avoiding or even conceding arguments. Rather, the goal must always be to lead others in truth and charity into full communion in the Catholic Church, the Family of God.

Truth (apologetics) and charity (ecumenism) are opposite sides of the same coin!

Further, in his encyclical on ecumenism, Blessed John Paul II rejected doctrinal compromise as incompatible with fidelity to the Gospel. So clearly apologetics has its place, and its renewal in recent years has had a positive influence on the Church. Apologetics done appropriately advances authentic Catholic unity by (a) removing unnecessary stumbling blocks, (b) clarifying misconceptions, and (c) demonstrating the reasonableness and consistency of Church teaching (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).

When it comes to both ecumenism and apologetics, we also tend to put too much emphasis on our own efforts. In ecumenical discussions, we implicitly think, “if only I’m nice enough, tolerant enough, or open-minded enough.” Meanwhile, in apologetic discussions, we implicitly think, “if only I’m smart enough, prepared enough, or convincing enough.”

The fact of the matter is that Christian unity, like faith itself, is mainly a matter of grace. For that reason, I want to leave readers with the following excerpts from the Decree on Ecumenism which stress our own personal renewal in Christ as the indispensable key to promoting Christian unity:

“There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds (cf. Eph. 4:24), from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way. We should therefore pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to be genuinely self-denying, humble, gentle in the service of others, and to have an attitude of brotherly generosity towards them. . . .

“All the faithful should remember that the more effort they make to live holier lives according to the Gospel, the better will they further Christian unity and put it into practice. For the closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love.

“This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name, ‘spiritual ecumenism’ (nos. 7-8).”

Catholics Look East!

20 Dec

Eastern Catholic hierarchyToday we continue our series on the sixteen documents of Vatican II with a consideration of the 1964 decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum, on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite.

When we think of the Catholic Church, we tend to think exclusively of the Latin rite. There’s some justification for this, as in the United States there are tens of millions of Latin rite Catholics, and just a few hundred thousand combined in the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches (sometimes called “Uniate” Churches) with ancient liturgies and traditions tracing back to places like Antioch, Alexandria, and Byzantium.

Further, some Latin rite Catholics hear “Eastern Church” and instantly think of the Eastern Orthodox Churches that broke away from the Church in Rome in 1054 and still are not in full communion today, despite ongoing ecumenical efforts.

Make no mistake, Eastern Catholic Churches are in full communion with the Holy Father. They were founded by the apostles and have their own their own rightful existence. They show forth the catholicity of the Church.

As  presently defined, there are 24 Catholic Churches that can be grouped into eight  different rites. A rite is a liturgical, theological, spiritual, and disciplinary  patrimony of a distinct people manifested in a Church. While each Catholic Church  may have its own rite or customs, in general, there are only eight major rites.  History, language, misunderstandings, nationalism, and basic human weakness have  resulted in the current communion of 24 Churches, counting the Latin rite.

With only a few exceptions,  the Eastern Catholic Churches result from incomplete reunions with the Orthodox  Churches. In those instances, large numbers of bishops and faithful of the Orthodox  mother Churches either held back or later rejected union with Rome. One could see how this could create tensions with the Orthodox, who  are fearful of losing their distinct traditions in a world dominated  by the Latin Church.

So in this context, I chose for our consideration the following paragraph from Orientalium Ecclesiarum, which sets forth the equal dignity and legitimacy of the Eastern Churches:

“These individual Churches, whether of the East or the West, although they differ somewhat among themselves in rite (to use the current phrase), that is, in liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, and spiritual heritage, are, nevertheless, each as much as the others, entrusted to the pastoral government of the Roman Pontiff, the divinely appointed successor of St. Peter in primacy over the universal Church. They are consequently of equal dignity, so that none of them is superior to the others as regards rite and they enjoy the same rights and are under the same obligations, also in respect of preaching the Gospel to the whole world (cf. Mark 16:15) under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff” (no. 3).

One related point:

In her official documents, the Church usually avoids the expression “Roman Catholic.” “Catholic,” yes. “Roman or Latin rite,” yes. “Church of Rome,” as meaning either the Diocese of Rome or that body which submits to the Bishop of Rome, yes. But not “Roman Catholic.” Why? Because the term was coined by 19th-century Anglicans as a term of opprobrium, to assert that those who accepted the authority of the Bishop of Rome were, in fact, not true Englishmen. Further, the Anglo-Catholic party endeavored to advance its “branch theory” of the Church, which erroneously asserts that the Catholic Church exists in three forms: Roman, Orthodox, and Anglican.

Even more, we’ve seen that the Catholic Church is composed of a variety of rites and particular Churches, only one of which is—strictly speaking—Roman—although all acknowledge the Bishop of Rome as their visible head. The indiscriminate, ambiguous use of the term “Roman Catholic” can have the (unwitting) twofold effect of (a) marginalizing all the non-Roman ritual Churches; and (b) making Catholicism much more particular—and thus idiosyncratic—than it truly is.

For more on Eastern Christianity, check out Orientale Lumen (“Light of the East”) by Blessed John Paul II. For what is likely the most authoritative treatment of the fascinating history of Eastern Churches–both Orthodox and Catholic–from the Catholic perspective, check out the books by my friend and former colleague, James Likoudis on the subject, especially Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism and The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church

We Are Family

29 Nov

Today in our series on the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), we turn to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). As the focus of Vatican II was on the nature, composition, and mission of the Church, it should come as no surprise that this document on the Church would be considered the central document of the Council. As we will see over the next couple posts in this series, Lumen Gentium has largely shaped our generation’s understanding of what it means to be “Church.”

Today I want to focus on what I consider to be one of the most significant passages from Lumen Gentium, taken from paragraph 9:

“At all times and in every race, anyone who fears God and does what is right has been acceptable to him (cf. Acts 10:35). He has, however, willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness.”

God does not desire to save us as isolated individuals, as if salvation were ever simply a “me and Jesus” thing. Rather, He desires to save us as His holy, beloved people (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9-10). This beautiful insight has led to “People of God” becoming one of the most popular titles or descriptions of the Church in recent decades.

Yet to modern ears “people” can sound a little generic and impersonal. Therefore, “People of God” can sound so big that our personal commitment to Christ and the irreplaceable value and contribution of the individual believer can seemingly get lost in the shuffle. That’s why I think there has been more of an emphasis in recent years on the Church as the “family of God.” It’s the same idea as the “People of God,” but in my opinion the word “family” captures the reality better for our culture, which sadly tends to think of the Church more as a bureaucracy than as a family.

The best analogy I can think of to describe our relationship to the Church is marriage. When Maureen married me, it definitely was—and is—a personal commitment. Yet, it has never been simply a “me and Leon” thing for her. Before I married her, she knew some members of my family, but she wasn’t a part of it. She was on the outside looking in. But when she married me, she didn’t just get a husband. My nephews and nieces became her nephews and nieces. My siblings became her siblings. My mother became her mother. She entered into the reality of my family. And then together with me, we have welcomed children and even a grandchild into our expanding family, which incidentally Vatican II called a “domestic Church.”

Similarly, when we are baptized, we not only become God’s children by adoption (cf. Gal. 4:4-7), but through what we call the “communion of saints,” we become part of a much larger familial reality known as the Church. We are united to our brothers and sisters in the Lord with ties that are stronger than flesh and blood–ties that will last for eternity. We are connected with those who have gone before us, but also with all our fellow Christians, with whom we share profound bonds of fraternity and solidarity. Because of the overflowing love and goodness of our supernatural family, we desire that all men and women may share this family unity with us (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14). That surely was at the heart of Christ’s prayer:

“I pray . . . 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” (Jn. 17:20-21).

So during this Year of Faith, as we seek to nourish and strengthen our faith, the Holy Father calls us to a greater awareness that our faith is necessarily ecclesial, which is Churchspeak for “familial.” The Church is not some faceless institution that gets in the way of our relationship with Christ, but rather is our home–our family–where we are always welcome, and where our faith is celebrated, lived, and shared.

Thanks be to God.

For more on the Church as “family of God,” check out the “Catholic for a Reason” series which I co-edited with Scott Hahn.

The First Marian Dogma

29 Dec

The first and foremost revealed truth about our Blessed Mother, from which all her other roles and honors flow, is that she is the Mother of God. Quite fittingly, we celebrate this beautiful mystery of our faith during the Christmas season, on January 1st, which this year falls on a Sunday. (And you just thought it was New Year’s!)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 509) summarizes the teaching as follows: “Mary is truly ‘Mother of God’ since she is the mother of the eternal Son of God made man, who is God himself.” The title “Mother of God” points to the sublime truth of the Incarnation, that Jesus Christ is true God and true man.

The Church’s teaching concerning Mary’s divine maternity is deeply rooted in Scripture and Tradition, and was dogmatically defined at the Council of Ephesus in 431.

For many Catholics, Mary’s “divine maternity”–in other words, her status as the “Mother of God”–is almost second nature. One of our oldest and most recited prayers, the Hail Mary, explicitly invokes “Holy Mary, Mother of God.” We typically call Mary our “Blessed Mother,” which points to our participation in the divine life as adopted children of God (cf. Rom. 8:15-17; Gal. 4:4-7; Rev. 12:17). Yet we could not call her our Blessed Mother unless she was first and foremost His Blessed Mother.

Since the fifth century, Mary’s title as “Mother of God” has been firmly established, and is easily the least controversial of the Christian doctrines concerning Mary. This teaching is a good starting point for ecumenical discussion and, as will be shown below, preserves correct teaching concerning who Jesus Christ is.

Now that we celebrated Christ’s birth last Sunday, let’s take a closer look at His mother, from whom “the Word became flesh” (Jn. 1:14). Continue reading