On the road together!
In 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation offers an opportunity to advance towards unity and to go beyond mere cordiality.
There will always be differences between the Churches, as well as within each Church. These differences will remain subjects for frank dialogue; they can be an enrichment. But, in all the Churches, over time denominational identity has taken precedence: people define themselves as Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox. Has not the time come to give precedence to the Christian identity shown in baptism?
A question follows from this: should not the Churches dare to come under the same roof without waiting to reach agreement on all the theological questions? Or at least to come under the same tent, going beyond a view of unity which is too static in order to create events and find ways, even if they are provisional, which already anticipate the joy of unity and cause visible signs of the Church of God, the Body of Christ, the Communion of the Holy Spirit, to appear.
Communion among all those who love Christ can only be established if it respects their diversity; but this communion can be credible only if it is visible. We need a new starting-point to head towards such a reconciled diversity. The starting-point is Christ, who is not divided. “It is only through Jesus Christ that we are brothers of one another…. Through Christ our mutual belonging is real, integral and for all time” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
In this way a sharing of gifts can be realized: sharing with others what we consider as a gift of God, but also welcoming the treasures that God has placed in them. “It is not only a matter of receiving information about the others in order to know them better, but to accept what the Spirit has sown in them as a gift for us as well” (Pope Francis).
How can we come under the same roof? How can we set out on the road together? A few suggestions:
- With neighbours and families of different denominations, gather as “grass-roots communities,” praying together by listening to the Word of God, in silence and in praise, helping each other, getting to know one another better.
- Every local community, every parish or congregation, should do with Christians of other denominations all that it is possible to do together—Bible study, social and pastoral work, catechesis—and do nothing without taking the others into account. Agencies that do the same work in parallel could be merged.
- Undertake acts of solidarity together, pay attention together to the misery of others, to hidden distress, to the plight of migrants, to material poverty and all other forms of suffering, remembering also to care for the environment.
- In the many cities where trust has already grown among the Churches, could not the cathedral or the main church become a common house of prayer for all the Christians of the area?
- Move forward with theological dialogue while developing the dimension of common prayer and an awareness that we are already together. When we grow in mutual friendship and pray together, theological questions are seen in a different light.
- Even if all Christians have received some share in a pastoral gift to watch over one another, the Church also needs ministers of unity at all levels. A ministry of communion on the universal level has traditionally been associated with the bishop of Rome. Is it not possible for the Churches to develop varied ways of associating themselves with this ministry? Could not the bishop of Rome be recognized by all as the servant who watches over the concord of his brothers and sisters in their great diversity?
- Should not the Churches which emphasize that unity in faith and an agreement on ministry are necessary in order to receive communion together give equal weight to the harmony of mutual love? Could they not offer a broader Eucharistic hospitality to those who show their desire for unity and who believe in the real presence of Christ? The Eucharist is not only the culmination of unity; it is also the road that leads to it.
Our Christian identity is formed by journeying together and not separately. Will we have the courage to come under the same roof, so that the dynamism and the truth of the Gospel can be revealed?