Benedict’s Two Great Tasks

Many of the world’s Christians are observing a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Except for Neil, I’ve not seen much interest in it among Catholic bloggers. Pope Benedict’s brief address at an audience today, while not touching on it explicitly, formed a worthwhile kernel to consider:

It is my belief that the effective application of this fruitful principle is evident in the synod, in which encounter becomes communion and the solicitude for all Churches is expressed in the shared concern of all. The forthcoming General Assembly of the Synod will reflect on the ‘Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church.’

The great tasks facing the ecclesial community in the modern world — and among the many I particularly stress evangelization and ecumenism — are centered on the Word of God and, at the same time, draw therefrom their justification and support.

Just as the Church’s missionary activity [...] finds its inspiration and its goal in the Lord’s merciful revelation, so ecumenical dialogue cannot base itself on the words of human wisdom or on skilful strategies, but must be animated exclusively by constant reference to the original Word, which God consigned to his Church to be read, interpreted and lived in communion.

The synod this coming October will be an interesting one. The pope inherited John Paul’s Synod on the Eucharist a few years ago, but this one is in part from the initiative of Benedict himself.

Regarding his “stress” on evangelization and ecumenism, I’ve been thinking about recent events in this light. His encyclicals seem directed not so much within the Church, but also to those outside of it. A commentator (maybe it was at NCR) spoke of Benedict’s likely disappointment over this recent episode at La Sapienza and the subsequent gestures of support at St Peter’s and elsewhere: it would be because of the missed opportunity to preach outside the square, rather than charge up the crowds within it.

Without denigrating past encyclicals on contraception, the splendor of truth, and the like, Pope Benedict is acting more like the pope with these long essays on the basic virtues, love and hope. I believe he is trying to put himself above what some perceive as the din of Catholicism, or even churchy talk in general. In that sense he is moving as a pope should on matters of evangelization and ecumenism, speaking on behalf of Christianity as a whole–the witness some would say we should have.

For bloggers who are cheering for that St Peter’s Square support to show those silly godless students who’s boss, I’d say they’re missing the point. Likewise the sometimes interminable drumbeat of people “swimming the Tiber,” as if that’s some sort of triumph when churchy “celebrities” switch to Catholicism, as if that kind of smugness counteracts the thousands who quietly bow out of parish life after high school, grade school, First Communion, or some real or perceived hurt perpetrated in the parish. For too many Catholics, there is no ecumenism, but wading that Roman river. For these Catholics, it would appear your pope isn’t with you on that raft.

I don’t think the 2008 Synod on the Word of God will get the same attention among Catholics. There are no driving issues like ad orientam or the TLM to get the blood burning. We can get into a pseudo-intellectual exercise on literalism. The Word of God, according to the pope, is meant to be read, interpreted, and lived.

The living of the Word is the essence of our efforts to reach out to non-believers. Likewise, it is one main way in which we can work with other Christians to better discern those mysterious directions we will be led when more of us get serious about Christian unity. I suspect God has a lot more in store than a steady stream of swimmers, coming and going.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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3 Responses to Benedict’s Two Great Tasks

  1. Sherry Weddell says:

    Todd:

    Just FYI – I’ve blogged on both stories over at ID and on the Pope’s Angelus on the tie between ecumenism and evangelization over the past few days.

    I was interested in Allen Hunt because I think he needs our support – its a tough thing to move from being a mega-church pastor to Catholic layman. I respect his choice as an act of conscience – I can’t imagine any other reason for a man in his position to do what he has done. Its isn’t about triumphalism. It’s about empathy because I have a vivid and personal sense of the journey he has embarked on.

    And I”m literally the last person on the planet to ignore “the thousands who quietly bow out of parish life after high school, grade school, First communion, or some real or perceived hurt perpetrated in the parish.”

    There are a number of us who aren’t interested in responding to everything in right/left culture war terms. You aren’t alone.

  2. Todd says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Sherry. Quite right on all points.

    Your blog would be the last one I’d expect to find confusion on these matters–I was thinking more along the lines of the closed cafeteria and a few of the more strident voices in the various comboxes: Catholics who think that membership is some sort of entitlement and who routinely ignore the cause of Christian unity.

  3. Easter Dates says:

    Sherry/Todd,

    Would you mind stopping by http://www.onedate.org

    It is an on line petition to unite the date of Easter that Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox would celebrate this Feast of Feasts all on One Date.

    There is also a downloadable petition kit been added for people to take along to events for Unity Week.

    If either of you would write a blog post on it during Unity Week it would help further raise awarness.

    In Christ,
    Easter Dates

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