As a boy growing up in a small town north of Milwaukee, my best friend was named Donny. While we were the same age and in the same grade, Donny and I didn’t attend school together. His family was Lutheran; and unlike most of the kids in town who went to the local Catholic school, Donny was enrolled in public school. We played softball and football after classes ended each day or King of the Hill atop the mountains of snow that appeared in winter after the streets had been cleared.
Our families didn’t make much of the fact that we were members of different Churches; it was just a fact of life in a state where immigrants from different parts of Europe settled and brought with them long-established patterns of religious affiliation and practice. Donny even took part in a fair number of “Masses” that my schoolmates and I performed at home.
Recently, my eyes fell upon the following headline online: “2017 ‒ Catholics and Protestants to Commemorate Reformation Anniversary.” The German city of Wittenberg is preparing to mark the occasion. Wittenberg is where Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church 500 years ago and started a movement. The Catholic Church’s response to Luther and the other protesters was the Counter-Reformation, the high point of which was the Council of Trent from 1545 to 1563, called to implement a program of internal reforms and undertake the re-evangelization of Europe.
Nikolaus Schneider, the chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, met last year with Pope Francis to invite him to the anniversary. During this meeting, the Holy Father “underlined how important it is for him that we, as Churches, walk together on the path of testifying [to] the faith in this world.” Schneider said that the conversations with the pope and Vatican officials had contributed to building a sense of openness and trust.
Bishop Gerhard Feige, the Catholic bishop of Magdeburg, commented afterward: “One could almost say that the Catholic Church has set out from the path of the Counter-Reformation on to that of the Co-Reformation.”
In a joint statement which appears on the Vatican’s website, we read: “The awareness is dawning on Lutherans and Catholics that the struggle of the sixteenth century is over. The reasons for mutually condemning each other’s faith have fallen by the wayside. Thus, Lutherans and Catholics identify five imperatives as they commemorate 2017 together.”
“In 2017, we must confess openly that we have been guilty before Christ of damaging the unity of the church. This commemorative year presents us with two challenges: the purification and healing of memories, and the restoration of Christian unity in accordance with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:4-6).”
The fact is that the world today, perhaps more than ever before, needs the voice of a united Christianity. Enormous challenges face us. As believers and witnesses to Jesus Christ and the Gospel, we cannot afford “the luxury” of discord and alienation. Prayer, dialogue, fellowship, and sincere efforts at renewal on all sides have brought us to this point. Praise God!
In This Issue
A team of biblical and pastoral theologians associated with Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, will write our scriptural reflections this year. We are deeply grateful to Dianne Bergant, CSA, the Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Old Testament Studies; John R. Barker, OFM, Assistant Professor of Old Testament Studies; and Barbara Shanahan, the director of the Catholic Biblical Studies Program in the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, for taking on this project.
This is an especially good issue of Emmanuel. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did editing it. A blessed 2017!
Anthony Schueller, SSS