"Ecumenism Does Not Allow Anything to Become Lost"

Cardinal Kasper’s Homily at End of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

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ROME, FEB. 11, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave at a Mass that concluded the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Jan. 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. He gave the homily in Italian.

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Total conversion fosters the grace of unity

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. “My peace I give to you”: This year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is inspired by these words taken from the Gospel of John. To all of you here I now address the ancient biblical and liturgical greeting: Shalom! Pax vobiscum! Peace be with you!

I greet with joy the Christian communities of Rome, especially the brothers and sisters of the communities that are not Catholic, united to us in the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This year, a special bond joins us to Christians of the Middle East and in a particular way to those of Syria, where — in Aleppo — the text was prepared for the Week of Prayer. Let us fervently ask that peace may return to this tormented region of the world; a region which, in the early centuries, was the cradle of a rich Christian culture; a region where today, however, Christians are a minority but give a good example of living in concord and of ecumenical collaboration. To these brothers and sisters we extend our gratitude and prayer: “Peace be with you!”

Jesus says be “peacemakers”

2. Men and women have always looked towards peace with hope and longing, ever opposed to violence and war and continuing to believe that in the end, peace will have the last word. This cry raised up by those thirsting for peace is heard by God, since God is the God of men, a God who answers our invocation. Peace is one of his names (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33). Shalom, peace, is an ancient promise, a promise we find again in both the Old and New Testaments.

Peace does not mean simply the silence of weapons. Peace is an order willed by God for all things, a world where men and women live together without violence, in freedom and happiness. Peace means peace in the universe, peace between nations, peace within a population, peace in the depths of the heart. The Bible concludes with the world vision where God will “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain” (Revelation 21:4).

The New Testament announces to us this hope of peace that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. “For he is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Christ founded peace and nailed hatred, violence and hostility on the Cross. He underwent violence in his own body but did not respond with violence, praying instead for those persecuting him. He entrusted his disciples with the responsibility to be, like him, peacemakers (cf. Matthew 5:9).

We cannot regain unity by our own unaided efforts. This is why Jesus has left us his peace. He has infused his Spirit into our hearts: not the spirit of this world, but the spirit of peace, justice, reconciliation, docility and charity, the spirit which transforms our egoism and selfishness and makes us new men and women, persons in whose hearts the peace of Christ joyfully reigns (cf. Colossians 3:15). As men and women who have been given peace, we Christians must be ambassadors, witnesses, pioneers of peace in this world.

Unite to heal schism

3. Dear brothers and sisters, faced with the urgency of this message of peace, our heart fills with sorrow and shame, since the images that our world — and even our Churches — send us are much different. Our Churches are divided and down through history, their example, rather than being mutual and in favour of peace, has been one of opposition.

Each time that we Catholics say, at the moment of the Eucharistic celebration before Communion, “Peace be with you,” we earnestly add: “Look not upon our sins.” This also means: Do not look upon the sin of schism, the scandal of separation. And we all have reason to ask: “Give us unity and peace.”

This prayer at the center of the Eucharistic celebration has already grown in my heart for many years. It is for me the prayer for Christian unity. Day after day, especially Sunday after Sunday, it is pronounced by a large number of Christians worldwide. For this, it cannot be recited in vain, it cannot go unheard. By reciting this prayer, we unite ourselves to Jesus’ own prayer to the Father on the eve of his death, “that they may all be one” (John 17:21). Jesus pronounces this prayer before us, with us, for us.

True spirit of Christian hope

4. Thus, united in prayer with Christ, we are able to welcome the consoling words of the Gospel: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” These are important words, especially in those moments when we are tempted to succumb to discouragement in the face of the difficulties we encounter on the ecumenical journey.

In the last 10 years, we are able to see, thanks to God, that we have made great progress. We no longer make use of expressions of hatred, contempt and reciprocal derision. A new spirit of brotherhood has developed and we live, work and pray together. We have become friends.

But if we look at the world objectively, we cannot pretend that everything is perfect. Sometimes we notice hints of “ecumenical fatigue,” signs of a new confessionalism, efforts to undermine the journey towards unity. After having filled in the ditches that once divided us, we now observe that new ones are appearing in the field of ethics.

Of course, from a merely human viewpoint, there is reason to worry and to lose heart. But let us not forget that we are Christians! “The Spirit God has given us is no cowardly spirit, but rather one that makes us strong, loving and wise” (2 Timothy 1:7). Christians are people of hope. This hope has nothing to do with a naive optimism; it is a gift of God, preserved in patience (cf. Romans 5:4), a gift that allows us to hope against all hope (cf. Romans 4:18) and to understand that God is greater. It was the Second Vatican Council which emphasized that the ecumenical movement is born from the impulse of the Holy Spirit; when the Spirit of God starts something, he always brings it to completion. Therefore, there is no reason for discouragement: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Interior conversion: grace of unity

5. The feast of the Apostle Paul that we celebrate today at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer suggests to us the direction that we must take. It points us in the direction of conversion. The teaching of Jesus himself begins with an invitation to conversion: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). The same holds for ecumenism if we wish to make headway. The decree on ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council clearly states that ecumenism is impossible without conversion, purification of the memory and heart; without a renewal of mind, language and behaviour (cf. “Unitatis Redintegratio,” Nos. 4, 7; encyclical letter “Ut Unum Sint,” Nos. 15 ff, 21, etc.). Ecumenism is impossible without openness to reform and renewal. Likewise the holy Church, as the Second Vatican Council says, is “always in need of purification, [and] follows constantly the path of penance and renewal” (“Lumen Gentium,” No. 8).

We are used to speaking about the conversion of others; however, conversion must begin in ourselves. We must not look at the speck in our brother’s eye when we miss the plank in our own (cf. Matthew 7:3). Ecumenism encourages us to exercise self-criticism. As the Holy Father said, [ecumenical dialogue] also serves as “an examination of conscience” and must be an exhortation to seek forgiveness (“Ut Unum Sint,” No. 34). It is not simply others who must convert; we all must convert to Christ. To the degree that we are united to him, we are also united among ourselves.

I would like to add a second point regarding dialogue. Dialogue is the ecumenical method itself. It is not a simple exchange of thoughts o
r arguments but is an “exchange of gifts” (“Ut Unum Sint,” No. 28). We must not center our attention on the shortcomings of others but focus on their strong points, their richness, for we can learn from one another and be mutually enriched. We must be a blessing for one another. It is fallacious, therefore, to think that ecumenism is a process of impoverishment where a meeting with the other is based on the lowest common denominator.

On the contrary, ecumenism does not allow anything to become lost: It is a process of growth and enrichment. Through dialogue, the Spirit wants to guide us “to all truth” (John 16:13). It is therefore necessary to have humility and the capacity to recognize that we too have need of others. The principle virtue of Christians is not arrogance or obstinacy, but humility. And why should this not be true for ecumenism as well?

“Spirituality of communion”

Lastly, I would like to recall the importance of the spirituality of communion. The invitation of the Apostle is clear: to “lead a life worthy of the calling you have received, with perfect humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another lovingly … [preserving] the unity which has the Spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force” (Ephesians 4:1-3). Without such a spirituality of communion, institutional communion would become a mechanism without a soul. Spirituality of communion means, as the Holy Father has well expressed, making room for our brothers and sisters, sharing with them their desires, burdens, sufferings (cf. “Novo Millennio Ineunte,” No. 43). We must not, therefore, point our finger at the weakness of others, but must stand beside them in solidarity, helping them to overcome their difficulty: This is what unites us. This is what builds peace.

Let us now call upon the Spirit of peace, praying to him to make us his instruments. May the peace of the Lord, able to overcome every tension, fill your hearts. May the Lord be merciful and give us his peace. Amen.

[Translation by L’Osservatore Romano, adapted here]

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