Thursday, January 21, 2010

On Christian Unity and in Defense of Life

Friends, sorry for the recent absence. I hope you all had a great Christmas holiday season. If you checked this site over the past month or so, there's been nothing new since my post on the meaning of Advent. Hopefully, you found that reflection to be pertinent to the Christmas and Epiphany seasons as well. As always, I would have enjoyed posting more but time is always at a premium of late.

I stayed here in Italy, mostly here in Rome, having the privilege to host my family who came over for about two weeks. More on that soon. In all, it's been a refreshing if busy month, and as I move into exam season once again, I am grateful for the blessings that I've received over the past few weeks, primarily their presence.

One of the highlights of the past month has been the opportunity to participate in quite a few papal events. I'll elaborate more soon, I hope, but for now, I thought I'd draw some attention to some comments Pope Benedict made yesterday that I thought are very important for all of us. As you may know, this week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, when all Christians of good will gather together to remember the importance of ecumenism, stressed in a new way at the Second Vatican Council, and to ask God to aid -- or, indeed, lead -- those efforts to once again be the one Body of Christ. Pope Benedict's words from yesterday's Papal Audience were, I think, helpful in several ways.

First, we must remember that our primary struggle is not about the doctrinal questions with other Christian communities, but rather fighting together against the skepticism regarding the Gospel and indifference regarding the divine which we see in the modern and secular world. Second, our prayers for Christian Unity cannot be an ancillary project but instead is integral to the very mission of the Church, i.e. proclaiming the Gospel to the world, and as such should be of primary importance in our prayer. Finally, we can't delude ourselves in thinking that this unity will come about as a result of our own efforts. While we must continue to work at ecumenism, the one who will see this work to completion is no human but rather Christ himself.

The theme for this year is "You are witnesses of these things," words from the Gospel of Luke which the Risen Lord says to his disciples. But what are these things? And how are we to be witnesses to them? Here's some excerpts from the Pope's words:

If we look at the context of the chapter, "these things" means above all the cross and resurrection: The disciples have seen the Lord's crucifixion, they see the Risen One and thus begin to understand all the Scriptures that speak of the mystery of the passion and of the gift of the resurrection. "These things," therefore, is the mystery of Christ, of the Son of God made man, who died for us and was resurrected, is alive forever and thus the guarantee of our eternal life.

However, by knowing Christ -- this is the essential point -- we know the face of God. Christ is above all the revelation of God. In all times, men have perceived the existence of God, an only God, but who is far away and does not show himself. In Christ this God shows himself; the distant God becomes close. "These things," therefore, above all with the mystery of Christ, is that God has become close to us. This implies another dimension: Christ is never alone; he came in our midst, died alone, but resurrected to attract everyone to himself. As Scripture says, Christ created a body for himself, gathers the whole of humanity in his reality of immortal life. And thus, in Christ who gathers humanity, we know the future of humanity: eternal life. All this, therefore, is very simple, in the last instance: We know God by knowing Christ, his body, the mystery of the Church and the promise of eternal life.

We now come to the second question: How can we be witnesses of "these things"? We can be witnesses only by knowing Christ and, knowing Christ, also knowing God. But to know Christ certainly implies an intellectual dimension -- to learn what we know of Christ -- but it is always much more than an intellectual process: It is an existential process, it is a process of an opening of my "I," of my transformation because of the presence and strength of Christ, and thus it is also a process of openness to all others, who must be body of Christ. In this way, it is evident that knowing Christ, as an intellectual and above all an existential process, is a process that makes us witnesses. In other words, we can be witnesses only if we know Christ first hand, and not only through others -- from our own life, from our personal encounter with Christ. Finding him really in our life of faith, we become witnesses and can contribute to the novelty of the world, to eternal life.
A good reflection, I think, not only on the faith we share with all Christians but on the essential importance of a real and personal relationship with the Lord as the necessary foundation of all that we do.

* * *

While the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is the main event in the worldwide Church, at home in the States, this week and weekend also see the many public displays of protest at the violence done to life, especially in the abomination of abortion. On Saturday, tens of thousands will gather for the national March for Life in D.C. to recall and protest the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I encourage you not only to pray for an end to abortion and all offenses against the right to life, but also to get involved in some visible and active ways.

First, check out the USCCB's web page on Pro-life activities, and especially join spiritually in the National Prayer Vigil for Life on Friday evening. Second, although you may not be able to be physically in D.C. this weekend, consider signing the Virtual March for Life to add your voice and name to the many who are taking a public stance against this violence. Finally, although not directly related, I pass along the link to the important Manhattan Declaration which defends the institution of the family and the rights of conscience and religious liberty. More than 400,000 have signed this landmark declaration, itself a statement of what can be achieved when religious groups set aside differences and unite to stand up for truth.

In these days when relativism seems ever on the rise, and religious sentiment ever in erosion, let us join together not only in prayer but also recognize the importance of action, speaking out against injustice. As the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom we remembered earlier this week, said, "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."