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CONCLUSION OF THE WEEK OF PRAYER 
FOR THE UNITY OF CHRISTIANS 2002

HOMILY OF CARD. WALTER KASPER

Basilica of St Paul-Outside-the-Walls
Friday, 25 January 2002

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Friends,

"With you is the fountain of life" (Ps 36[35],10):  these are the words of the Psalmist, chosen as the theme for the Week of Prayer this year. They are words of faith and confidence, words of hope and courage, that unite and challenge us.

1. I greet all of you who have come to celebrate the conclusion of the Week of Prayer in which we ask God to send upon us his Spirit of Life, that truly he may be the source of new life and of fresh zeal for the unity of Christians and of all humanity. Above all, I greet the Churches and ecclesial communities present here in Rome, who meet every year with us for this time of prayer in the Basilica of St Paul-Outside-the-Walls, a site that is meaningful and important on account of the ecumenical events held here in recent decades, and especially in the Jubilee Year 2000. Your presence and active participation with us and our common prayer are for me signs of a communion that has grown and continues to grow, of a promising friendship, an occasion of gratitude, joy and hope.

Dear brothers and sisters, we are all still under the impact created by the Day of Prayer for Peace yesterday in Assisi. It was a deeply moving experience, an event that will leave a lasting impression on our hearts. Let us thank the Lord for giving us this experience, through which he has shown his presence in our world, in our time, despite all the troubles, worries and fears. He has once again filled us with hope, but at the same time, committed us anew to become peacemakers, and peacemakers together.

2. The psalmist's words resound like an echo of the witnesses and prayers of Assisi. Truly, God is the source of life! It is necessary to remember this fundamental truth, especially after the tragic events of 11 September, the fruit and expression of the powers of death, the death of thousands of innocent people, and a threat to the life, values and culture of life of all humanity, threatening peace and the civil coexistence of men and women, peoples, races, religions and cultures. Then the abysses of the powers of death and evil were opened before us.

These events have shown the fragility of our civilization, and weakened the certainty of our security. Once again we have understood the deep meaning of the Prophet Jeremiah's message in the Old Testament:  "They say:  "Shalom! Shalom!', "Peace! Peace!' but there is no peace" (Jer 8,14). "We looked for peace (shalom), but no good came" (Jer 8,15). In the course of our life, even our modern life with all its sophisticated scientific and technological means, we are threatened by death.

So where is the source of life? This is the question that the man of today asks himself; it is a longing, a hunger and thirst, expressed by so many of our contemporaries. The desire for life, for true life, for the fullness of life, dwells in every human heart. Many young people in particular realize that a civilization of possession and pleasure is not enough, it does not satisfy or fill the heart and does not bring inner peace; on the contrary, it leads to a constant, frantic and frustrating quest to have more and more.

3. In Assisi we heard another message, the message of the religions, of all the religions. Although they are many and each is different, they communicate a common message:  the world and life have a value far greater than things that can be seen, touched, calculated, done, obtained or manipulated; they are loftier, deeper, richer.

"Men look to their different religions", as the Second Vatican Council says, "for an answer to the unsolved riddles of human existence. The problems that weigh heavily on the hearts of men are the same today as in the ages past. What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is upright behaviour, and what is sinful? Where does suffering originate, and what end does it serve? How can genuine happiness be found? What happens at death?.... And, finally, what is the ultimate mystery, beyond human explanation ... from which we take our origin and towards which we tend? (Nostra aetate, n. 1). "Throughout history even to the present day, there is found among different peoples a certain awareness of a hidden power, which lies behind the course of nature and the events of human life. At times there is present even a recognition of a supreme being, or still more of a Father" (ibid., n. 2).

Religions want to be and to show the ways to life, to permeate life with a deep religious sense. The religions have as their common patrimony the conviction of the holiness of life. Killing in the name of religion is a blasphemy, an abuse, an erroneous understanding of religion. For the religions, the divine or the divinity is the source of life.

4. The Bible of the Jews and Christians with its faith in creation confirms, purifies and enriches this religious conviction. God created "the heavens and the earth ... and all the host of them" (Gn 2,1). God, God alone is the fountain of life, a living spring, welling up, plentiful, overflowing. He created all things and breathed into all of them the breath of life, he keeps everything alive and at the end he leads everything to the fullness of life. "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17,28). As the Bible says, he is the Lord "who loves the living" (Wis 11,26). In the last Book of the Bible it is written:  "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life" (Apoc 21,6). Therefore, in the end, "neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away" (ibid., 21,4).

Dear brothers and sisters, today we need to fight for life and for the holiness of life. Our modern and postmodern culture is a secularized culture that has lost its awareness of God as the source of life. Man has made himself master of life and wants to make into an object, analyze, calculate and manipulate all things, and thus to reduce all things to the state of an inanimate object; even human life is becoming the object of economic calculations.

Because God is the source of life and because God wants peace, we Christians must be promoters and lovers of life and peacemakers. We Christians must play the leading role in a new culture of life, of the gift of life, of respect for the holiness of life, for the values and priority of life, in order to oppose dead things. In the situation we face today, today's threats and today's problems, our confessional conflicts are doubly shameful. All of us Christians, together with the Jews, must discover the common heritage of the truth about creation. We must be together and give a joint witness to God, the source, custodian and lover of life, we must cooperate with one another for a new culture of life.

5. Dear brothers and sisters, if we reflect on the verse of the Psalmist "With you is the fountain of life" we discover still another dimension, a distinctive element that the New Testament points out to us, the dimension of new life. In the passage from the Gospel of St John that we have focused on this week, Jesus' meeting at night with Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews (Jn 3,1-17), to the surprise of Nicodemus, Jesus speaks of the need to be born again to new and eternal life from water and the Spirit.

Underlying these words is the experience we have mentioned, the experience of fragility, the deep wounds and distortions of human life, of our weakness and inability to give security and meaning to our life. God created the world and human beings "good", even "very good". But through sin, man detached himself by moving away from the source of life.

Nevetheless God remained faithful to his creature; God - as Jesus said to Nicodemus - loves the world. For this reason he sent his Only-Begotten Son into the world. "In him was life" (Jn 1,4). He came that they that they might have life and have it abundantly (Jn 10,10). He is "the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14,5). This is the explanation that Jesus offers Nicodemus:  after access to the first tree of life in paradise was denied, the new tree of life was lifted up on the Cross, "that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (Jn 3,15). Because anyone who drinks the water that Jesus gives will never thirst; rather, the water he will give will become "a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (Jn 4,14). Through the water of Baptism, God is again the source of new life; through Baptism, we partake in the new life, we are made new men (and women), new creatures, we are born anew "for a living hope" (1 Pt 1,3).

6. Dear brothers and sisters, this is the element that establishes brotherhood among all the baptized, among all Christians. There are differences between us; we belong to different Churches and Ecclesial Communities. But what unites us is deeper and stronger than what divides us. No difference is so profound, no division so broad and deep that it can take away or destroy our more sincere and fuller communion.

This explains the real and profound communion among all Christians, despite their being in different Churches and Ecclesial Communities. This also explains the difference between the baptized and the non-baptized, between the ecumenical dialogue, that takes place among Christians, and the interreligious dialogue with members of non-Christian religions. The foundation and range of the ecumenical dialogue are qualitatively different. Whereas interreligious dialogue aims at peaceful, respectful coexistence and friendship, ecumenical dialogue aims at full communion and the unity of the Church.

The Letter to the Ephesians has expressed this our Christian communion:  "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all" (Eph 4,4-6).

7. Yet, we would run the risk of a very serious misunderstanding in our grasp of this elevated hymn to our communion if we say:  "We are okay; we are satisfied; nothing needs changing, we can stay as we are". No, absolutely not! If we were to think along these lines we would forget that Jesus and the New Testament spoke of the new life, the new human person, the new creature. Every day we need to be renewed, we need a personal renewal and a communitarian renewal of the Church. Often we all live more in conformity with the laws of this old world than with the new law of new life, the new commandment of charity and love.

We are not perfect, and the Church, although holy, is a Church of sinners. This becomes evident if we look at our divisions. They are against the will of Christ; they are sin. All the negative thoughts, evil words, prejudices, wicked deeds and injustices that have taken place down the centuries and often still happen today are a contradiction of love and Christian brotherhood."Ecclesia semper reformanda", is a Protestant slogan; the Second Vatican Council affirms the "ecclesia purificanda" (Lumen gentium, n. 8). The two assertions echo the basic concept and heart of the Good News of Jesus about the coming of God's kingdom:  "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1,5).

Conversion is essential for Christian life and there is no authentic ecumenism without conversion, without the desire to let oneself be immersed in the newness of the Kingdom of God. The Second Vatican Council teaches us this (Unitatis redintegratio, n. 5-8) and the Pope repeats it in his ecumenical Encyclical Ut unum sint (nn.15-16; nn. 33-35). The ecumenical movement is first and above all a movement of conversion to the new life. A purification of memory, a new way of thinking, a new heart, a true ecumenical spirituality are needed.

8. Yes, a renewed ecumenical spirituality that is the heart of ecumenism and the key to a new ecumenical impetus that will enable us to leave behind the embarrassing situation in which we are now and to make a leap forward. We need to draw constantly from the spiritual sources of life:  listening to the word of God, the sacraments, prayer. The closer we become to Christ and his Gospel of new life, the closer we draw to one another. Only if we renew one another, only if we become new men (and women), can we be authentic witnesses of the new life in a new culture of life. Only if we live the newness of the Gospel, are we able to be witnesses of hope and to encourage others to go with us on the long and tiring but joyful journey towards unity, so that the world may believe and find the way towards peace and brotherhood.

"With you is the fountain of life". Dear brothers and sisters, This phrase also applies to the ecumenical movement. We are not, our efforts are not the source of a new ecumenism, it is God alone who is the source of a new ecumenism, of a Church renewed, to make us witnesses of a new culture and peacemakers.

"Come, Holy Spirit, renew the hearts of your faithful". Amen.

 

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