F. Laurent Fabre: Community of Life and the Unity of Church
16 marca 2004 | 14:14 | Ⓒ Ⓟ
During the celebrations ending this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Pope was repeatedly using the words “imperative” or “neccesity”.
How can we answer to this “urgent need”, how to answer to this “imperative call” addressed to us by God’s people? Not only are divisions among Christians the main impediment in evangelization, but they are also a great impediment for the world peace, because they paralyze the Body of Christ, making it impossible for Jesus himself to be the Prince of Peace among us.
In the conference on the “Spring of Ecumenism”, that has recently been held in Lyon to commemorate priest Paul Couturier, pastor Konrad Reiser, Secretary General of the World Council of Churches, expressed his conviction that what we witness is rather an “ecumenical winter”! Fortunately, Deputy Secretary General, Georges Lemopoulos, member of the Orthodox Church, stated in the “La Croix” daily (Friday 23 January 2004) that “this ecumenical crisis is not a consequence of a failure, but it rather is – however strange it may seem – a fruit of an unprecedented success. Ecumenism offers to Churches such productivity that they find it impossibile to accept the harvest of many years of hard work and to transform it into concrete activities”.
In the same conference Konrad Reiser did point out the undeniable signs of spring, among which he mentioned above all the “new ecumenical communities”: Taizé, Sant’Egidio, Focolari, Chemin Neuf.
When we are sometimes asked by distrustful people why the Chemin Neuf Community is an “ecumenical Catholic community”, I feel like answering that we are trying to put in practice the exact words of John Paul II, said during at least six public speeches: “Let’s do together everything that we can do together”. Can we live together in the same house? So we – Catholics, Protestants, Orthodoxes – do live together in the same house. Can we pray together? So we do pray together. Is it not forbidden to preach the Gospel together? So we do it together. Everything we can do together, everything that is not forbidden to do together, together we do.
There are some things we cannot do together, for example taking communion at the same table… Hence we remain obedient to our Churches.
What we are in fact after is living with ecumenism all the time, 24 hours a day, and not only one week a year during the Week of Christian Unity.
This everyday practice of ecumenism is not always easy but it has a great advantage: it requires a true conversion… Everyday life with brothers and sisters of different Churches makes us focus on what is really important and look for specific ways of unity. Not to confine myself to generalizations, I would like to give you four examples, each of which assumes making a step towards sharing and reconciliation among our Churches.
1/ Mary and the Unity of Church
In accordance with the vision of the unity prophet, priest Paul Couturier, for four years we have been creating an international network of formations and ecumenical involvement (the so called “International Ecumenical Fraternity” or “Net for God”).
In 1994 Paul Couturier wrote: ”If on every Thursday night, a weekly memory of the Maundy Thursday, a growing number of Christians of all religions created an huge network surrounding the Earth, an “Invisible Monastery” as if, in which everyone would be incorporated in Jesus’ prayer for Unity, wouldn’t it mean that the dawn of Christian unity has already risen above the world? Isn’t such an attitude of spiritual, honest, deep and zealous encouragement of each other what our Father expects from us in order to realize the Visible Unity?” Net for God, among many other existing ecumenical movements, is already a beginning of this “huge network surrounding the Earth”!
Every month we send to about fifty countries a video of an ecumenical formation translated into eighteen languages. Last month we recorded a program about Nazareth and we talked about Virgin Mary claiming, as John Paul II often does, that Mary not only is not an obstacle in the journey towards Christian unity, but that she will accompany us in this journey. Some Protestant members of the International Ecumenical Fraternity (F.O.I. in French) felt uneasy watching this video and they reacted to it. I have received a letter, for instance, from a member of the evangelical Church, saying: “I don’t understand what can possibly be the connection between the way of unity nad Mary”. He added: “I can understand perfectly well that we, Protestants, should not demand that our Catholic brothers deny in their spirit the significance attributed to Mary, moreover, I totally agree that our ‘allergy’ (related to the fact that the Church allowed for a real cult of Mary) generally leads us to an extreme opposite reaction: ignoring the testimony of Mary, Mother of Saviour”.
In our next videos we will have to explain this and say why we believe that Mary may help us in our journey towards the unity.
Asking us questions in the atmosphere of truth and brotherly understanding, our Protestant, Evangelic and Whitsuntide brothers help us express our Catholic faith and justify our religious practices.
In such a way, as it is stated in the encyclical “Redemptoris Mater”: “The Church knows and teaches, following St. Paul, that we have only one intermediary: ‘There is one God and there is only one intermediary between God and people, Jesus Christ, who became a man himself, who sacrificed himself for us” (Timothy 2.5-6). In other words (a further quote): “The teachings of the 2nd Vatican Council present the truth about Mary’s mediation as participation in the only source which is the mediation of Jesus Christ himself”. It is good to say this to reassure our Protestant brothers who are anxious about some expressions, such as: “Mary, the Intermediary of all grace”. But when we have set their minds at ease, we can join them on the way and try to explain why Mary’s role, her mediation, also that concerning the Christian unity, is still an open, up-to-date issue for us.
2/ The Question of Authority in the Church
If it is true that the Holy Spirit clearly shows us that our different Churches are led towards the steps of conversion, it is also true that the question of authority remanis a proiority in the ecumenical dialogue, one of the main points of conversion. In his encyclical “Ut Unum sint” John Paul II emphasizes that he is aware that his service, which is the service of unity, may seem one of the major obstacles for the unity: “A visible sign and a guarantee of unity in the figure of the bishop of Rome presents a difficulty for most of the remaing Christians” (“Ut Unum sint, no. 88). As it is very clearly stated in the “B.E.M.” document (Faith and Constitution), in the New Testament and in the primary Church the authority was threefold: personal, collegiate and communal.
Throughout history, and especially in the times of splits and divisions, certain imbalance would occur and it had to be corrected. In the conference quoted in the documents of the Bishops of France, priest René Girault says: “It is certain that our Roman Catholic Church has put a great emphasis on personal authority, at the cost of the collegiate dimension and the role of community. Conversely, the Orthodox Church has well develeoped the collegiate dimension, but has done so at the cost of primacy. In Protestant Churches, which are ‘congregational’ churches, the community pole of authority has been stressed to such an extent that the collegiate and personal dimensions have been forgotten. The balance must be thus restored in each of the Churches through conversion, for which every Church is a challenge and a question mark for the rest. This ‘reform’ will not be a harm to fidelity, what is more, it will be even a step towards greater fidelity. Going further, an ecumenical group of theologists, the so called Dombes Group, remarked that the strength of each Church is also usually the sphere of its highest risk of infidelity. The Catholic Church, the ‘Church of authority’ must be regarded as abusing authority. The Reformed Churches, the ‘Churches of Freedom’, must be regarded as abusing freedom”.
(Episcopate Documents, No. 18, December 1993).
From this perspective, the new ecumenical communities are in the right place to watch, in their everyday practice of authority and participation structures, the balance of these three forms of authority. They have to allow to be asked questions about the way the responsible put into practice the issues of “primacy”, how they support the “collegiate dimension” and to what extent they evoke in the whole community a true “participation of every person and of all together”. The presence of non-Catholic brothers and sisters in the Chemin Neuf Community has often been an invitation to respect the “collegiate dimension”. It has also encouraged us to establish such “participation structures” that will allow for a free exchange of words in these 22 countries where we are present… Similarly, the Catholic idea and our experience of convent obedience help us experience and understand “primacy”.
3/ Lord’s Feast
In different houses or monasteries of our Community every day we say the following prayer, inspired by priest Paul Couturier’s prayer:
for everybody to be one,
we ask You for the unity of Christians,
such a unity as You want to see,
acheived by such means as You will choose.
May Your Holy Ghost let us:
experience the suffering of divisions,
see our sin and hope beyond all hope.
It is in the Eucharist that we experience every day this suffering of divisions since many of us cannot, because of their obedience to their Church, participate in the communion of bread and wine consecrated at the altar. As far as the Catholics are concerned, we have noticed that in different Eucharistic liturgies there is no reference to other Christian Churches. Every time during our everyday liturgy we pray for the Pope and our Bishop, sometimes for priests, deacons, the sick… but we never pray directly for other Churches. We consider it unnatural and not compliant with this “imperative”, this “urgent need” for ecumenism. This is why in every Eucharist, at the moment of celebration, when after “Our father” prayer the priest asks God for peace for the Church and for keeping His Church in unity, we, the priests, add aloud this text, which many Bishops and Cardinals did not hesitate to join in during some celebrations:
Jesus Christ, You said to Your Disciples:
‘I leave you with peace, I give you peace’.
We ask you, disregard our sins but do have regard to the faith of Your Church
And, complying with Your will, fill it with peace;
Fill with peace: Eastern Churhces, Orthodox Churches and their patriarchs;
Fill with peace: Reformed Churches, the Church of England, the Evangelic Church;
All Christian Communities that call Your Name
And the responsible of all these Churches.
Make our divisions end and lead us to full unity.
You who live and reign in Heaven for ever nad ever. Amen.”
4/ A parable about sharing
In 1982 during the meeting “Quinquagesima over Europe” in Strasbourg where Christians from all over Europe gathered, I received these words from our Lord, the words that I conveyed to the twenty thousand people present there: “Europe, Europe, if you do not share, you will die!”.
“Europe of the Spirit” can only be “Europe of sharing”. The Quinquagesima opened the doors and Jesus’ apprentices discovered community life and began to share their goods. Not only did they discover a different way to adore God “all together in the same place”; for it is not enough to pray well to create Europe. What they discovered was this very specific joy of sharing.
There are many inequalities in Europe, seen from every point of view, especially in the sphere of economy: some live in affluence but plenty of people lack the indispensible basics. The unity of Europe, as the unity of Church, will come into being also through the sharing of our riches.
During the meeting of the Chapter of our Community, which comprises 22 countries, and among them ten countries of Western and Eastern Europe, we decided unanimously that we shall have one “Common Fund”, which means that those from the West and those from the East, as well as those from the North and the South will have one and the same financial fund: we put our goods into the common cash box and share our income whether it is big or small.
The admirable experience of Sant’Egidio Community in poor districts of Rome or the development of the so called “Economy of the Communion” started by Focolari in numerous countries…, as well as all the other parables of these new communities about sharing, are not only “the spring of the Church”; all this is a sign of a new Europe, where sharing and “civilization of love” are not just empty words. Now we can also better understand the words of the Holy Father who said on this memorable Pentecost Sunday in 1998, addressing over 300 000 members of these new communities gathered in the St. Peter’s Square: “I have here before my eyes the Christians of the third millenium”.
Father Laurent Fabre
Chemin Neuf Community
Congress – Gniezno – 13/03/2004
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