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Ecumenical Blogs from Atonement Friars

LutheranChapelTalinnI want to take a moment to highlight two blogs from the world of ecumenism hosted by Atonement friars.

The Centro Pro Unione in Rome is the ecumenical center for the Eternal City, and the main library for the ecumenical section of the theology faculty at the Angelicum. Housed in the Collegio Innocenziano overlooking Piazza Navona, it was once one of several ecumenically oriented institutions in the building, including the Lay Centre, Casa Foyer Unitas, and Taize. It is the site of the Thursday debriefing during the Council for ecumenical observers, who were staying upstairs as Foyer Unitas at the time.

Its director, Prof. James Puglisi, SA, is also director of the ecumenical section at the Angelicum, and has started a blog here: Ecumenism Around the World: http://atonement-ecumenism.blogspot.it/

From the American branch of the Society of the Atonement, based at Graymoor, NY, comes the monthly publication Ecumenical Trends and the homonymous blog, http://ecumenicaltrends.blogspot.it/

Dignitatis Humanae and an aside

The final full day of our Russell Berrie Fellowship Orientation program began with a trip to the Centro Pro Unione, the historic library and ecumenical center that sits above the Piazza Navona. Director Fr. James Puglisi, who also serves as director of the ecumenical section at the Angelicum and Minister General of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, lead a presentation on the academic responsibilities and processes of the section in addition to an introduction to the Centro.

This was followed by a roundtable discussion on Dignitatis Humane with our previous guests Thomas Casey, SJ and Miguel Ayuso Guixot, MCCJ and introducing Maltese Dominican Joseph Ellul, who is an expert on Islamic thought and its encounter with eastern Christianity. The rest of the day was spent in administrative issues and a group discussion around the praxis of interreligious dialogue, and a closing celebration of the Eucharist.

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One of the interesting aspects of the week was the number of priests living in the house. Obviously, the Lay Centre only has one or two priests for Eucharist, whoever has been invited to preside. It is always a little strange to have as many concelebrants as other members of the assembly! This provided an interesting side discussion with one of my cohort, a presbyter. If a priest is celebrating the Eucharist, must he do so as presider or concelebrant, or may he do so as a member of the assembly – “in choir” in other words. And if so, does it “count” if the priest feels an obligation to celebrate mass daily?

There is clearly a movement that seems recent which indicates a priest should vest and actively concelebrate every time he is at mass. At the same time, one need look no further than papal liturgies at St. Peters to see that often, most priests and bishops are attending in choir only, not concelebrating. As at home, it seems some are asked to concelebrate for certain occasions, but it should not be assumed – and it certainly does not necessitate a private mass to be celebrated later!

I know it is not about interreligious dialogue, but, thoughts, anyone?

Commitment of the Catholic Church to Dialogue

Monday brought us to the Angelicum with a welcome from Irish Dominican Michael Carragher, Vice-Rector and Canon Law Professor, and a brief tour from the new dean of the Theology faculty, Maltese Dominican Joseph Aguis. I learned more about the University in these 20 minutes than my time spent in its classrooms the last year. The university itself is the third oldest in rome, after Sapienza and the Gregorian, but its original location was next to the Pantheon in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. The building that currently houses the university was originally a convent, repurchased from the government sometime after both sites had been taken in 1870. In what had been the chapter room, and serves now as the Sala de Senato, the full-body relic of an unnamed saint rests in the armor of an imperial roman soldier under the altar, unbeknownst to even some of the faculty who had joined us on our tour.

Fr. James Puglisi, SA, who serves as director of the ecumenical section and the Centro Pro Unione lead our first academic discussion on the “Commitment of the Catholic Church to Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue”. Like many of the presentations throughout the week, the content was review, but would certainly be helpful for those arriving without previous background in ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. We lunched at the Gregorian university bar, which is substantially larger than its Angelicum counterpart.

Thomas Casey, SJ pictured with NYU Professor Lawrence Schiffman

Following lunch, we ran into former Lay Centre resident Dimitrios Keramidas in his new role as secretary of the Missiology faculty at the Gregorian. He gave us an impromptu tour of his office and that of the Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion and Culture, as well as the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies. We were joined there by Irish Jesuit Father Thomas Casey, director of the Bea centre, who introduced us to the research and work of the center, which includes 6000 volumes on Judaism in the Gregorian university library. This was followed by a 90-moinute introduction to the library there, which is the largest in Rome. At this point I calculated that if all the pontifical universities in Rome combined their libraries into a single collection, or at least a single system to which all pontifical students had access, it would be almost as large as the Hesburgh Memorial Library at Notre Dame.

Gerard O'Connell, Rome Correspondent for UCANews

We returned to the Lay Centre for celebration of the Eucharist with the Theologian of the Papal Household, Polish Dominican Wojciech Giertych. This was followed by a dual-presentation and discussion over dinner with Fr. Giertych and Gerard O’Connell, Rome correspondent for the Union of Catholic Asia News service and author of God’s Invisible Hand, a biography of Cardinal Francis Arinze. The topic of their presentations was, “Issues that Matter to the Holy See: Seeing Interreligious Dialogue in its Broader Context”.

Wojciech Giertych, OP

The views were decidedly different, but not necessarily in opposition. Clearly a journalist and a theologian have different constituencies, frames of reference, and sensitivities when observing the Holy See; both men have had several years of doing so. Fr. Giertych raised a few hackles among some fellows with comments that grace comes through Christ and not through Buddha or Muhammad, but others countered that this is simply classical Christocentricism, inclusivist though it may be and in contrast to a more pluralistic view that is popularly construed as the most popular approach. (Whether it is or not is another discussion). At the least, it is helpful to be reminded that even in the administration of a papacy that is clearly pro-dialogue, there exist different methodologies and approaches to dialogue.

One of the burning questions of the evening revolved around whether Jews and Muslisms, at least, worship the same God as Christians. The Catholic Church has authoritatively taught that they do, and this has been cited from Gregory VII in the eleventh century to Nostra Aetate in the twentieth. Still, the thesis is challenged even within the church, and this fact lead to some pretty interesting conversation the rest of the evening. That, and another debate which started with one of the European fellows noting, “There is nothing new in Nostra Aetate. It is fifty years old, and it shows. We should be much further along than this!”

Indulgences as Ecumenical Barometer

Prof. Michael Root

Leave it to a Lutheran to research and understand indulgences to the point that he probably knows more about them than any Catholic other than the Major Penitentiary himself. Not just any Lutheran, of course, but Professor Michael Root, a lay ecclesial minister and theologian-ecumenist of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I have had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Root and listening to him on a few occasions – at Oberlin for the F&O anniversary, in Graymoor for a USCCB institute, and at a NWCU or two over the years.

He was in Rome to teach an intensive course at the Gregorian on eschatology in ecumenical perspective (which the Angelicum ecumenism students never heard about until after the fact) and he spoke at the Centro Pro Unione this afternoon. For as high-caliber a presentation as this was, attendance was dismal, I am sad to say, perhaps because of good weather combined with the laissez-faire approach to communication in the Eternal City (“Why is it called the Eternal City? Because that’s how long everything takes!”)

Nevertheless, Professor Root presented a finely honed bit of research on the development of the idea of indulgences in the Catholic Church, its perception and reception in ecumenical encounter and dialogue, and suggested that some of the most recent language of the Church on indulgences is palatable even to Lutheran seminarians! We have come a long way since the Reformation.

Despite these deep changes in indulgence theology, one can still find holy cards printed with actual numbers of “days off” of purgatory for each indulgence, as if time exists in eternity! Most people, Catholic and Protestant alike, probably know nothing about the theory of indulgences that represents theology any more recent than the Reformation. Trent, if we are lucky.

In preparing for the Great Jubilee of 2000, Pope John Paul II had called together an ecumenical commission to advise on the preparations for the Jubilee. One of the points raised was the fact that another planning commission had announced a plenary indulgence for the Jubilee before considering its ecumenical impact, and apparently without applying the pope’s own theology of indulgences to the practice! It was what might be called a catechetical moment for some of the Jubilee planners, and the spark that ignited Prof. Root’s interest in the topic.

A small example of the development in indulgence theology and its slow reception was raised by a member of the audience. The Council of Trent banned the sale of indulgences more than 400 years ago, but even in the run up to the Jubilee 2000, the pope’s own Cathedral, San Giovanni Laterno, had prepared worship aids which included something along the lines of “the purchase of indulgences can be done through the following means…” Though there was no actual sale of indulgences, the language still reflected this idea some four centuries after it had been forbidden by the Catholic Church itself!

The text of the lecture itself will be far more valuable than my month old notes on it, but it does not seem to be online yet. Perhaps in the next copy of the Centro Pro Unione Bulletin. I will repost when available. It will be worth the read!

Witness through Hospitality: WPCU Day #8

From the official material prepared by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

Scripture

Genesis 18:1-8, Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves.
Psalm 146, He who gives justice to the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
Romans 14:17-19, Pursue what makes for peace and mutual edification.
Luke 24:41-48, Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.

Meditation

Today, electronic communication has made us neighbors in one small and overloaded planet. As in the time of Luke, many peoples and communities have had to leave their homes, wandering and journeying to strange lands. People of the world’s great faiths have arrived bringing new beliefs and cultures to our communities.

In the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we recognize in our shared journey towards unity the hospitality and companionship of Christians of all churches. Christ also calls us to both offer and to receive the hospitality of the stranger who has become our neighbor. Surely, if we cannot see Christ in the other, then we cannot see Christ at all.

The story in Genesis describes how Abraham receives God in opening his house and offering hospitality to strangers. The God of all creation also stands with the prisoner, the blind, the stranger. Our psalm is an offering of praise for God’s everlasting faithfulness and all that God has done for us.

The text from Romans reminds us that the kingdom of God comes about through justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

The resurrected Christ brings his disciples together, eats with them and they recognize him again. He reminds them of what the scriptures said about him and explains what they did not understand before. Thus, he frees them from their doubts and fears and sends them out to become witnesses of these things. In creating this space for encounter with him he enables them to receive his peace, that implies justice for the oppressed, care for the hungry and the mutual up-building as the gifts of the new world of the resurrection. Christians throughout history have found the risen Lord as they have served others and been served by others in faith, so we too can encounter Christ when we share our lives and our gifts.

Prayer

God of love, You have shown us your hospitality in Christ. We acknowledge that through sharing our gifts with all, we meet you. Give us the grace that we may become one on our journey together and recognize you in one another. In welcoming the stranger in your name may we become witnesses to your hospitality and your justice. Amen.

Reflection Questions

To what extent is the country in which you live hospitable to the stranger?
How in your own neighborhood can the stranger find hospitality and a space to live?
How might you show gratitude for those who have shown you hospitality by being available?
How does the cross show us that God’s hospitality is a hospitality lived out in total self-giving?

Witness through Hope and Trust: WPCU Day #7

From the official material prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches:

Scripture

Job 19:23-27, God whom I shall see on my side.
Psalm 63, My soul thirsts for You.
Acts 3:1-10, What I have, I give you.
Luke 24:36-40, The disciples were startled and terrified.

Meditation

During their journey in life and faith, all Christians experience moments of doubt. The challenge faced by Christians is to continue to believe that even when they do not see or feel God, God remains with them. The virtues of faith, hope and trust allow them to give witness that their faith goes beyond their own possibilities.

The character Job gives us an example of someone who faced difficult trials and tribulations and even argued with God. In faith and hope however, he believed that God would remain on his side. This reliance and conviction is also shown by the actions of Peter and John in the account with the lame man as told in Acts. Their belief in the Name of Jesus allows them to witness powerfully to all who were present. Today’s psalm is a prayer reflecting our deep desire for God’s steadfast love.

Our meeting during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity allows our communities to grow in shared faith, hope and love. We bear witness to God’s steadfast love to all people, and God’s faithfulness to the one church we are called to be. The more we witness together, the stronger our message will be.

Prayer

God of hope, share Your vision of the one church with us, and overcome our doubts. Increase our faith in your presence, that all who profess belief in you may worship together in spirit and in truth. We especially pray for all who are in doubt right now, or whose lives are spent in the shadow of danger and fear. Be with them and give them your consoling presence. Amen.

Reflection Questions

How do you deal with your own fears and doubts?
How might you be a cause of fear and anxiety for others by your behaviour?
When have you faced up to your own fears and doubts and so given witness to your faith in Christ by overcoming these difficulties?
How may Christian communities encourage one another in faith and hope?

Witness through Faithfulness to the Scriptures: WPCU Day #6

From the official material prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches:

Scripture

Isaiah 55:10-11, The word that goes forth from my mouth does not return to me empty.
Psalm 119:17-40, Open my eyes that I may see the wonders of your Law.
2 Timothy 3:14-17, All scripture is inspired by God.
Luke 24:28-35, Jesus opens the Scriptures to His disciples.

Meditation

Christians encounter God’s Word in a privileged way through reading the Sacred
Scriptures and celebrating the sacraments. In faithfully listening to the proclamation of Holy Scripture, and by prayerfully reading the various books of the Bible, they open their hearts and minds to receive the very Word of God. Jesus promised His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to make them understand the Word of God, and to guide them in all truth.

Historically, Christians have been divided in reading and understanding the Word of God. Fortunately, in recent times, in their search for unity, Sacred Scripture has brought Christians closer to one another. Shared Bible study has become a major means of growing together among them. The Christian journey that we celebrate during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is one that is firmly rooted in our shared listening to God’s Word, trying together to understand and to live it.The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s Word powerfully proclaimed is indeed effective and operative. It does not return to God empty but succeeds in the purpose for which He sent it.

This message is repeated in the words addressed to Timothy, as he is directed to believe in the efficacy of the Scriptures by which the faithful are equipped for every good work. Our psalm gives praise for God’s words and statutes and implores God to give understanding, that we may keep the Holy Law with our whole heart.

During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we pray that all Christians may enter more deeply into the mystery of God’s wonderful revelation as it comes to us in Holy Scripture. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us better comprehend the Word of God and to direct us on our common journey of faith until we will all be gathered again around the one table of the Lord.

Prayer

God, we praise and thank you for your saving Word as it reaches out to us through the Sacred Scriptures. We thank you too for the brothers and sisters with whom we share your Word and discover together the abundance of Your love. We pray for the light of the Holy Spirit, so that Your Word may lead and direct us in our quest for greater unity. Amen.

Reflection Questions

What are the passages of Scripture that mean most to you?
Who or what in your life makes your heart burn with a passion for the gospel and a desire to give witness to Christ?
Which passages from the Scriptures have helped you to better understand the witness of other Christians?
How may our churches use the Scripture more effectively in their daily life and prayer?

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