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HOMILY BY CARD. WALTER KASPER
TO CONCLUDE CHRISTIAN UNITY WEEK

Tuesday, 25 January 2005

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Cor 3: 11). With these powerful words, the Apostle Paul reminds us of the one foundation on which the Church is built, and at the same time explains to us the reason for our ecumenical commitment. This is because being founded on the one Lord Jesus Christ implies the profession of the "Church, one and holy", and excludes division. One cannot say:  "I belong to Paul" or "I belong to Apollos (I Cor 3: 4). By means of the one Baptism we are all in Christ. "Unitatis redintegratio", that is, the recomposition of unity, is therefore one of the primary works of the Church.

Last year we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Conciliar Decree Unitatis redintegratio, which speaks of ecumenism. The International Conference at Rocca di Papa in the month of November was a further confirmation of the topicality of this Document and of the urgent need to make it a concrete reality.
The Decree, in fact, clearly explains one of the priorities of the Second Vatican Council:  the visible unity of all Christ's disciples, for which Our Lord prayed on the eve of his death (cf. Jn 17: 21). On the occasion of that anniversary, we expressed our deep gratitude for what the Holy Spirit has accomplished in the course of the last 40 years.

Today, at the beginning of a new year, we do not want to turn our gaze to the past, but we wish to look to the future, to the future of ecumenism.
Since its dawn in the 20th century, the ecumenical movement has known great changes in the world and in our Church. The ecumenical situation itself is very different.

At times, the initial burst of enthusiasm seems to run the risk of dissolving into a state of lethargy and of losing its credibility. On the one hand, signs of reticence and resistance are emerging, and on the other, signs of resignation and frustration.

We cannot, therefore, continue to repeat:  "business as usual". Instead, what should we do? What can we do?

There is no lack of proposals to revise methods, correct structures, include new members, examine urgent questions and even to relaunch a reflection on our intentions, our purposes and our agenda.

To some extent, these suggestions can be logical and relevant. But in the reading we have just listened to, Paul offers another approach. He defines himself as an architect who, as such, must plan the building of the house, that is, the dwelling place and temple of God, which is the Church.

A good architect, Paul says, does not start with the roof or the internal structure but begins with the foundations. Only on solid foundations that are not built upon sand but upon rock, as Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, can we be sure that the house will endure and will not collapse with the onset of stormy weather (cf. Mt 7: 24-27).

Paul, therefore, asks us to reflect once again on the foundation of our work. His response is very clear:  "No other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ". The response to the new challenges is a response of faith and a spiritual response, that is, a response rooted in the life and spirit of Christ.

Faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is the foundation of Baptism, which makes us Christians, incorporating us into the Church (cf. I Cor 12: 13; Gal 3: 28). The Christological confession of faith in Jesus Christ as the one Saviour of all humanity is part of the basic formula of the World Council of Churches, and constitutes the fundamental agreement, the common denominator, of all who take part in the ecumenical movement. And the common missionary witness, which professes that salvation can be found in no other name than Jesus Christ's (cf. Acts 4: 12), before a world that does not yet know him or no longer knows him, is precisely the ecumenical goal.

Thus, Jesus Christ is not only the foundation but also the goal of our ecumenical commitment; in him we will all be one. "All under the one head, Jesus Christ", as the Founding Fathers of the Lutheran Church said in their confessional writings.

But is this reality still clear to all of us? Do we keep it clearly in mind during our discussions and reflections?

Do we not rather find ourselves in a situation in which our priority task, our greatest challenge, is to remember and to reinforce our common foundation, and to avoid its frustration by so-called "liberal" interpretations that claim to be progressive but are in fact subversive?

Precisely today, when everything in our post-modern society is becoming relative and arbitrary, and each person creates his own religion la carte, we need a solid foundation and a reliable common reference point for our personal life and our ecumenical work. And what foundation could we have other than Jesus Christ? Who better to be our guide? Who can give us greater enlightenment and hope than he? Where else, other than in him, can we find the words of life (cf. Jn 6: 68)?

In practice what does all this mean? I will mention here only three consequences.

In the first place, it is with regard to the Bible that we are divided, and it is only through reading, studying and meditating on the Bible that we can rediscover unity. "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ", the Council said (Dei Verbum, n. 25), urging us to renew the long tradition of Lectio divina (cf. ibid.), that is, the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture. In this spiritual reading, the Fathers of the Church claimed, Our Lord Jesus Christ is really and authentically present, as he is in the celebration of the Eucharist (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 7).

Our ecumenical commitment must be nourished at the table of the Word (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 21). It is on the Bible that we are divided; on the Bible we must be reunited. The best ecumenism consists in reading and living the Gospel.

In the second place, we are incorporated into Jesus Christ through Baptism. In our ecumenical commitment, we are not starting from scratch. Through Baptism we are already part of a fundamental communion that unites us with Jesus Christ and with one another.

Therefore, let us consider together:  What does it mean to be baptized from the viewpoint of faith, but also from the viewpoint of life? What does it mean for our everyday life and for the answers we give to pressing ethical questions?

St Paul exhorts us not to conform to the mentality of the world (cf. Rom 12: 2), not to let ourselves be tumbled by the waves or pushed to and fro by any wind of doctrine (cf. Eph 4: 14). We run the risk - and at times this risk is already a sad reality - of being divided on new ethical questions and creating new gaps between us where for centuries we were united.

Consequently, we are no longer giving a common witness of the new creation to a world that today is itself in urgent need of this prophetic witness.
In the third place, Jesus Christ is present in the Church through his words and sacraments. He is Head of the Church and the Church is his Body, the Church that he loved and for which he gave himself up in order to make her holy, purifying her with water that cleanses, and he did this with the word (cf. Eph 5: 24-26).

Yes, the pilgrim Church is not yet without spot or wrinkle, but she has already set out on the path of purification, penance and renewal (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 8). Yet, Christ loves her just the same and gives himself for her.

Should not we too then grow in our love for the Church, mature in our "Sentire ecclesiam", "feel that we are Church, that we are an integral part of the Church?". We can and must distinguish Christ from the Church, but we cannot separate the one from the other.

St Augustine taught us the formula Christus totus, the fullness of Christ as the Head and Body. And this is the deepest point of divergence between the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the West; it prevents us from fully being a sign and instrument of Christ.

The theme of Jesus Christ as our common foundation urges us to reflect together, with a new impetus, on the "Nature and aim of the Church", according to the title of one of the most recent and important ecumenical initiatives.

Dear friends, the Church is God's dwelling place and his temple, where the faithful can live and pray together. We are all God's collaborators (cf. I Cor 3: 9).

In the end, each one of us will have to make an account of whether we have built a solid house and how we have built it:  whether we have built it on the one foundation which is Jesus Christ, with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or straw. Our work will manifest itself with fire, and fire will test the quality of the work of each one of us, and whether this work will endure (cf. I Cor 3: 12 ff.).

In other words, we will be asked if we have built up or if we have destroyed the temple of God (cf. I Cor 3: 17).

Our ecumenical construction of the full unity of all Christ's disciples will only last if we build it on the one foundation, which is the Lord, if we build it on his Word and his Sacrament, if we do not build on the wisdom of the world (cf. I Cor 3: 19) but on the one Spirit of Jesus Christ, which this world may consider folly but which is the power and wisdom of God (cf. I Cor 1: 24).

Let us therefore pray to the Lord that he will make us good architects and grant us strength and spiritual wisdom, courage, patience and hope. Amen.

Copyright Libreria Editrice Vaticana

 

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