Archdiocese of New York and Metro NY Synod event
Saint Ignatius Loyola, Thursday, 8th November
You all surely know the advice of Martin Luther, when he says that we have to preach so, that a seven-year-old child can understand the message. But, do you remember how Luther continued? “When doctor Melanchthon and I go to the basement of the Wittenberg castle and we talk together about theology, we speak so sophistically, that the Father in heaven will admire.”
Dear sisters and brothers. I’m sure you all are on the level of Luther and Melanchthon, but despite of that, please allow me to say some very basic words before we close our event. It might be just the American wisdom of rhetoric which has taught me two phrases, which are important especially for us theologians. The first one is keep it simple and the second one is less is more.
Five years ago our Lutheran – Roman Catholic Commission on Unity published a jointly written document titled From Conflict to Communion. William Rusch has together with Norman Hjelm taken the burden for the American edition and a study guide, with a wise introduction.
Let me briefly say some words about this document. It is one of the many fruitful ecumenical documents published since the dialogue between the churches began in the 1960’s. The subtitle of the document points out what is at stake: ”Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017”.
Let’s ask together what this document can tell us today in the midst of our ecumenical challenges.
I have four requests for you.
The first one: If you have ten seconds to spend on our document, please read only the title. In ten seconds you can do it three times. ”From Conflict to Communion.” ”From Conflict to Communion.” ”From Conflict to Communion.”
The title is the most important. We should get away from conflict. In the past conflict marked the Lutheran – Catholic relations. Now we should put them behind us. With the preposition ”from” we state from what we should be free. Please, do not stay in conflict.
Instead of conflict Communion is important. Communion is not to be taken for granted. With the preposition ”to” we express what is the goal we should strive for. What is our goal? What direction do we want to go?
In ten seconds it is possible to understand what is the most important thing in ecumenism. ”From Conflict to Communion.” Communion is the key word of ecumenism.
Would it be possible, dear sisters and brothers: whenever we meet a Christian from another church, we should spend some seconds meditating silently in our hearts and saying to ourselves: ”From Conflict to Communion.” This is what I have to expect first of all from myself. If I have this attitude, then it may be possible for others to do the same. ”From Conflict to Communion.”
Communion is the main point. With that we should begin and towards that we should strive. If we learn only to come from conflict to communion, we know a lot about the nature of ecumenism. Ten seconds is enough for that.
But I have also a second request for you.
If you have another three minutes for our document, please read the foreword. Ask yourself what pleases you in the foreword. Three minutes is enough. A Finn needs four minutes.
What is important in the foreword? My suggestion for an answer is: Two things were important in the Reformation 500 years ago. The first was a sad thing, the other can be a joyous thing.
The sad thing in the Reformation was that it led to a deep split in the undivided Western church. ”The fact that the struggle for the truth in the sixteenth century led to the loss of unity in Western Christendom belongs to the dark pages of church history.”
We have to be honest and confess that there is also a sad side to the Reformation. It is not most important, whether it is the Lutherans or the Catholics, who are more guilty. We have to confess together: ”We have stood in the way of the good news of the mercy of God.”
But there is also a joyous side in the heritage of the Reformation. Whatever was said during the struggles at that time, the constant and permanent was and is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther can teach us much, but the most important is the Gospel, which makes us free. ”True theology and the knowledge of God are in the crucified Christ.” That was the core in the theology of Martin Luther.
The foreword of our document says what we can be joyous and happy about: ”The gospel should be celebrated and communicated to the people of our time so that the world may believe that God gives Himself to human beings and calls us into communion with Himself and His church. Herein lies the basis for our joy in our common faith.”
Then to my third request. If you still have three more minutes for our document, please read the five imperatives in the end of our document.
We often ask concerning ecumenical documents: what good do they do in our everyday life, in our families and local parishes? I do hope that the five imperatives can give at least an initial answer.
”The first imperative: Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.”
”The second imperative: Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.”
”The third imperative: Catholics and Lutherans should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what his means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal.”
”The fourth imperative; Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.”
”The fifth imperative: Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.”
I really hope that these five imperatives can support us all in changing our ecumenical behavior a little bit. All will not change in a moment, but something can change. Please, try to listen to the imperatives, not only here in our event, but also later on in your homes and parishes.
One of my favorite slogans comes from the pope John XXIII: ”The things that unite us are greater than those that divide us.”
I still have the fourth and last request.
When you go back to your homes, please take yet another three hours, find a comfortable chair and read the whole document slowly.
Yes, I know, it will not be such an easy lecture, not like reading a comic book, like the cartoons of Donald Duck.
It will be a theological lecture, hopefully also a spiritual challenge. I’m sure that all of you here in New York have such nimble minds, intellectual curiosity and high competence, that the lecture will be an adventure.
And if or when you find something which is too complicated or too sophisticated – you can be sure we theologians know how to be just in those things – then please, stop and in the spirit of Martin Luther have a good beer, and turn to the next page. There you will find new impulses and insights.