In his column today, Pat Ludwa in recognizing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, brings into focus the importance of realizing just what ecumenism is and not to turn our backs on it in a sense of religious nationalism, but to embrace the "power in numbers" concept in praying as one - for Jesus has promised "For where two or three are gathered together for My sake, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18: 20). At the same time, Pat points out we cannot compromise our beliefs for the sake of unity just as the early Christians did not, nor the Jews of the Old Testament. He reinforces the fact that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is the one sure way to salvation refuting modernists who claim salvation is attainable by other means as well. Pat shows that this is true only if they "know not what they do" for Our Lord has clearly outlined His Will and shown us the way, the truth and the life. For his column today, Catholic Ecumenism means striving for unity, not equality of faiths! , see VIEW FROM THE PEW
St. Francis of Assisi wrote that the power of God is such that no rational, thinking creature could miss Him. The Greek teacher Aristotle saw this truth when he pointed out that everything on earth had an origin. And if we follow each thing's origins back, we end up reaching the "Un-moved mover". God.
Such was what occurred in ancient societies. They looked about and knew that the world they lived in was no accident. There had to be a higher being responsible. But they didn't know who. They looked to their own world and took it to model their gods and goddesses. If one needed armor, one went to an armorer. So there had to be a god for that. There had to be a god for weather, rain, grain, hunting, even love. And, of course, a 'king' of the gods. Hence Zeus, Jupiter, Odin, and many other gods and goddesses came into being. This wasn't wrong, just not right. Even before being given the light of God by Abraham and Christ, mankind knew there was God.
"Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves" (Genesis 12:1-3).
One has to realize what a great departure from the norm this was; that one God was responsible for the entire world, that He cared for the entire world, was unheard of prior to that time.
Abraham didn't condemn those who didn't believe in his Lord. In fact, in Genesis, we see that he pleaded for them. "So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near, and said, 'Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt thou then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?' And the LORD said, 'If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake'" (Genesis 18: 22-26).
The Lord was not going to Sodom to punish it for not worshiping Him, nor was Abraham asking for their punishment. Even those who did not believe in the Lord could be righteous. Not for their gods was Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed, but for their sin. "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to Me; and if not, I will know" (Ibid: 20-21).
Joseph had no problem with the gods of Egypt when he was made Pharaoh's Chancellor. He just didn't worship them. For the power of God is such that even those who did not know God, knew OF God. His law was written in their hearts.
But tragedy struck when the Hebrews turned away from God, and created their own God. "When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said to him, 'Up, make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' And Aaron said to them, 'Take off the rings of gold which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.' So all the people took off the rings of gold which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made a molten calf; and they said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!... And the LORD said to Moses, 'Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!' ' And the LORD said to Moses, 'I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people; now therefore let Me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation'" (Exodus 32:1-4; 7-10).
In no case did the Lord, in the Old Testament, ever destroy a nation or a people solely because of the gods they worshiped. But of the Jewish people, "And God spoke all these words, saying, 'I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in Heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments'" (Exodus 20: 1-6).
When Christ came to earth, He didn't advocate the destruction of Rome, or it's overthrow for the 'kingdom of God'. Instead He showed God's love for all mankind. "As He entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to Him, beseeching Him and saying, 'Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress." And He said to him, 'I will come and heal him.' But the centurion answered him, 'Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it.' When Jesus heard him, He marveled, and said to those who followed Him, 'Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.' And to the centurion Jesus said, 'Go; be it done for you as you have believed.' And the servant was healed at that very moment" (Matthew 8: 5-13).
No doubt the Centurion, as a loyal soldier of Rome, sacrificed before the gods of Rome on behalf of Rome. No doubt his 'faith' was in the Roman gods, but he recognized that Christ held authority. It may not be that he accepted Him as his Messiah, it is even doubtful he knew what a Messiah was. But he knew He had authority to cure his servant. But note, Christ never said it was okay for the Jews or His disciples to worship the Roman gods. "Jesus said to him (Thomas), 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me'" (John 14:6).
Even St. Paul was 'ecumenical'. "So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagus, said: 'Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God Who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of Heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And He made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after Him and find Him. Yet He is not far from each one of us, for 'In Him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your poets have said, 'For we are indeed His offspring.' Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed, and of this He has given assurance to all men by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17: 22-31).
St. Paul didn't condemn them for not knowing God. Instead, he praised them for knowing OF God. But he points out the same thing the Church teaches today. The times of ignorance are over, we must search for the truth instead of settling for A truth.
This was why Christ established His Church on earth. To bring the fullness of truth to all mankind, everywhere and for all time. All faiths had 'parts' of the truth, but a Christian couldn't partake in their beliefs, even in the sense of ecumenism. St. Paul's letters to the Corinthians was full of exhortation not to partake in pagan sacrifices, to enter with a temple prostitute (Aphrodite no doubt), or any other pagan ceremony.
In ancient Rome, the early Christians respected the Roman's religion, though they did not partake in it. They didn't sacrifice to the Roman gods. This caused the Romans to see Christians as 'intolerant and insensitive'. Other religions, even the Jewish religion, was respected and left alone. But these Christians weren't Jewish, they worshiped in a strange way to a strange God. All many Christians had to do was sacrifice to the Roman gods and/or partake in their religious revelries and they'd be freed. They, of course, could not, and so their fate was sealed. Those who did, and later repented, were allowed back in the Church with love and respect. This was what brought the Early Church Father, Tertullian, to the heresy of Montanism, since he felt it was impossible for them to repent and be allowed back into the Church.
Vatican II teaches us: "Even in the beginnings of this one and only Church of God there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly condemned. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church-for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame." (Decree on Ecumenism; Vatican Council II; UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO; Chap 1, #3)
Consider the Great Western Schism with the Eastern Orthodox, the Reformation and the rise of Protestantism. For a variety of reasons, politics, faith, poor diplomacy and misunderstanding, the One Church Christ founded was split. Yet, because they retained essential elements of the truth, they remained Christian. The Catholic Church was their mother, since it was from her that they received the truth that Christ is Lord.
"The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church-whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church-do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church." (Ibid)
This is no new innovation created by Vatican II, but a long standing teaching of the Church. "If, however, a man, through no fault of his own, remains outside the Church, he may be saved if he leads a God-fearing life; for such a one is to all intents and purposes a member of the Catholic Church. The majority of men who have been brought up in heresy think they belong to the true Church; their error is not due to hatred of God. A man who leads a good life and has the love of God in his heart, really belongs to the Church, and such a one is saved, not by his heresy, but by belonging to the Church." (The Catechism Explained; Rev. Francis Spirago, May, 1927. Nihil Obstat: Arthur Scanlan, S.T.D.; Imprimatur: Patrick Hayes, D.D. Archbishop of New York; "The Catholic Church alone gives salvation" pg. 246)
Vatican II carries on this teaching. "It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church. Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life-that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ's Catholic Church, which is 'the all-embracing means of salvation,' that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation." (Decree on Ecumenism; Vatican Council II; UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO; Chap 1, #3)
So, we look to other religions and other Christian denominations as brothers in Christ. As St. Peter said, "And Peter opened his mouth and said: 'Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him" (Acts 10:34-35).
This is the true element, the true emphasis of Catholic Ecumenism. As Fr. John Hardon points out: "...the function of ecumenism becomes very clear. It is something inspired by God, which comprehends 'all the activities and attempts that are initiated and coordinated for the purpose of encouraging the unity of Christians; they vary with the needs of the Church and the moments of opportunity.' On the practical level, this means that Catholics should avoid any words, judgments, or actions that do not correspond to what other Christians believe or do. Positively, they should engage in dialogue with separated brethren through discussion, cooperative action, and corporate prayer. Such dialogue presumes study and the desires to learn how the Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants worship, what they believe, and how their allegiance to Christ has affected their lives. More important than anything else, however, is 'spiritual ecumenism,' which can best be seen as reversing in the future what had been done in the past. One of the main reasons historically for Christian disunity was the disloyalty to Christ among those who called themselves Catholic. Their religious descendants today cannot do better to advance the cause of unity than to follow the Savior with great generosity, notably in the love of His cross, in order to contribute to the 'daily cleansing and renewal of the Church, which carries the lowly and dying state of Jesus in its body, until Christ shall summon it into His presence in all its beauty' at the end of time." (THE CATHOLIC CATECHISM; Part One: Doctrines of the Faith - VII. The Church; Catholic Ecumenism)
Ecumenism is not accomplished by rejecting or disposing of the truth that the Church, through the Apostles, have given us. But in recalling that as children of God, we can, at least, join together to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, as Christ commanded us to be.
To dispose of one iota of Catholic teaching, for a false sense of ecumenism, would be to follow those disloyal Christians who 'called' themselves Catholic. It would be akin to the Hebrews making a molten calf for their god, or the Early Christians sacrificing on the altar of Apollo or Jupiter.
But when Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. join as one to follow God and be a light unto the world, then God's love and saving grace becomes even more apparent. The culture of death would cease and life giving graces would flood the earth. That's what the Holy Father is aiming at in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint - "That all may be one."
Pax Christi, Pat
In 2000 we will be bringing you the Holy Father's words twice a week enabling us to bring you his weekly Wednesday Papal audiences on Mondays and his Sunday Angelus address on Thursdays. Today, we bring you the words from His Holiness Pope John Paul II from his most recent Wednesday Papal Audience at Paul VI Hall in which he addressed the key role of Our Lady in our journey of salvation. For his Papal Audience, see THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS
He himself willed Mary's presence in the history of salvation. When he decided to send his Son into the world, he willed that he should come to us by being born of a woman (Cf. Gal 4,4). Thus he willed that this woman -- the first to welcome his Son, should communicate him to all humanity.
Therefore, Mary is on the road that goes from the Father to humanity, as the mother who gives everyone her Savior Son. At the same time, she is on the road that men must take to go to the Father through Christ in the Spirit (Cf. Eph. 2,18).
2. In order to understand Mary's presence in the journey toward the Father, with the whole Church we must acknowledge that Christ is "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn, 14,6) and the only Mediator between God and men (Cf. 1 Tm 2,5). Mary is inserted in Christ's unique mediation and is totally at his service. Consequently, as the Council emphasized in "Lumen Gentium," "Mary's function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power" (N. 60). We are very far from assigning a role to Mary in the life of the Church outside of Christ's mediation or next to it, as though it were a parallel or concurrent mediation.
As I said expressly in the encyclical "Redemptoris Mater," Mary's maternal mediation "is mediation in Christ" (N. 38). The Council explains: "The Blessed Virgin's salutary influence on men originates not in any inner necessity but in the disposition of God. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. It does not hinder in any way the immediate union of the faithful with Christ but on the contrary fosters it" (LG, 60).
Mary herself was redeemed by Christ and thus is the first of the redeemed, because the grace given her by God the Father at the beginning of her existence is due to the "merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human species," as Pius IX's bull "Ineffabilis Deus" states (DS, 2803). All Mary's cooperation in salvation is based on Christ's mediation which, as the Council specifies again, "does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source." (LG, 62).
Considered from this point of view, Mary's mediation appears as the highest fruit of Christ's mediation and is essentially oriented to making our encounter with Him more intimate and profound. "The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary, which it constantly experiences and recommends to the heartfelt attention of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more closely adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer" (Ibid.).
3. In fact, Mary does not wish to draw attention to her person. She lived on earth with her gaze fixed on Jesus and the Heavenly Father. Her strongest desire is to make all turn their gazes in the same direction. She wishes to promote a look of faith and hope in the Savior sent to us by the Father.
She was a model of the gaze of faith and hope above all when, in the tempest of the passion of the Son, she kept in her heart total faith in him and in the Father. While the disciples, greatly distressed by the events, were profoundly shaken in their faith, Mary, also tried by sorrow, remained integral in the certainty that Jesus' prediction would come true: "The Son of Man ... will be raised on the third day" (Matt. 17, 22-23). This certainty did not leave her even when she took the lifeless body of her crucified son in her arms.
4. With this gaze of faith and hope, Mary encourages the Church and believers to always do the Father's will, manifested to us by Christ.
The words spoken to the servants at the miracle of Cana reecho in every generation of Christians: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2,5).
Her advice was followed when the servants filled the jars to the brim. Mary makes the same request of us today. It is an exhortation to enter into the new period of history with the determination to do all that Christ has said in the Gospel in the Father's name, which at present is inspired in us through the Spirit who dwells in us. If we do what Christ asks us to do, the millennium that is approaching will be able to have a new face, more evangelical and more genuinely Christian, and so respond to Mary's most profound aspirations.
5. The words: "Do whatever he tells you," with reference to Christ, also recall us to the Father, toward whom we are journeying. They coincide with the Father's voice that resounded on the Mount of the Transfiguration: "This is my beloved Son... listen to him" (Matt. 17,5). With the word of Christ and the light of the Holy Spirit, this Father himself calls us, guides us, cares for us.
Our holiness consists in doing all that the Father has said. Here is the value of Mary's life: fulfillment of the divine will. Accompanied and sustained by Mary, by way of acknowledgment let us receive the new millennium from the Father's hands and be determined to correspond to his grace with humble and generous devotion.
Dear children! This is the time of grace. Little children, today in a special way with little Jesus, Whom I hold in my embrace, I am giving you the possibility to decide for peace.Through your 'yes' for peace and your decision for God, a new possibility for peace is opened. Only in this way, little children, this century will be for you a time of peace and well-being. Therefore, put little newborn Jesus in the first place in your life and He will lead you on the way of salvation. Thank you for having responded to my call.