Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 17, 2000
Ecumenism in a jubilee year
This year's Prayer for Christian Unity is of even greater importance than previous celebrations for it cannot help but remind us of what Pope John Paul has called "the ecumenical character of the jubilee." In his 1994 apostolic letter on the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the pope called for greater ecumenical efforts "so that we can celebrate the Great Jubilee, if not completely united, at least much closer to overcoming the divisions of the second millennium."
Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew now says that any optimism about full unity between Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in the near future is "groundless" (Page 5). Indeed, this is so. But the pope reminds us that human efforts alone are not enough to attain unity since unity is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
The greatest human contribution to unity is, in fact, prayer - calling upon God to give us that unity just as Jesus prayed at the Last Supper "that they may all be one" (John 17:21).
To draw attention to the ecumenical character of the jubilee, the pope will open the holy door at the last of Rome's four great basilicas, St. Paul's, on Jan. 18 at a service opening the Prayer. In Edmonton, the opening service on Jan. 23 will, for the first time, be followed by a supper, a time for feasting and fellowship among Christians of all churches. Indeed, the local commemoration of the jubilee will be decidedly ecumenical - with the New Year's Eve celebration at All Saints' Anglican Cathedral and the J2K festival on Pentecost two high points.
For some Catholics, ecumenism still stirs a fear that the truth is about to be watered down in order to reach some compromise. However, Pope John Paul says the Catholic ecumenical response must take place "responsibly, without compromising our witness to the truth."
And a description of the Catholic ecumenical responsibility finds a significant place in the Catechism of the Catholic Church itself (n. 813-822). Ecumenism is not just a nice idea; Church unity is a doctrine. "The Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her" (Catechism, 820).
The Catechism lists several things we can do to promote Christian unity - "prayer in common, . . . fraternal knowledge of each other, . . . ecumenical formation, . . . dialogue, . . . collaboration in various areas of service" (n. 821).
But the first two items on the Catechism's list are perhaps the most important. First comes its call for "a permanent renewal of the Church in greater fidelity to her vocation." The Church is the bearer of timeless truths, but this fidelity is not static. A faithful Church is a Church which constantly strives to draw closer to the Lord. The dynamic nature of the Church is rooted in prayer, self-examination and ongoing reform.
The second item is related. The Catechism also calls for "conversion of heart as the faithful try to live holier lives according to the Gospel; for it is the unfaithfulness of the members to Christ's gift which cause divisions." Unity depends on the spread of personal holiness. The extent to which we are unholy is the extent to which we will be divided.
Of course, the call to holiness is itself an integral part of the holy year. The jubilee is a time for personal and communal repentance. We draw closer to the Lord as individuals and we purify our communities through prayer, self-examination and conversion.
Just as the jubilee calls our society to a more equitable sharing of the earth's resources, it also calls the churches to strive to overcome divisions which hinder the full exercise of the life of Christ which has been given to us. Full unity may not be imminent. But our call is to strive toward its attainment by greater openness and fidelity to the Holy Spirit who alone has the power to make us all one.
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