Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
“That’s Protestant!” What is generally meant by that rash indictment is that what was said is not Catholic and is not true. But the chances are good that it is Catholic and it is true. The roots of Protestantism are in Catholicism. Reformation does not mean annihilation. In reformation part of the substance remains, in annihilation nothing is left. In other words, most of what is Protestant today was and still is, Catholic. The Protestant religion is not a completely new religion which begins from scratch. It is an attempt to reform the Catholic religion. In calling the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII said, “The Church is always in need of reformation.”
The roots of Catholicism and Protestantism are found in the Person and life of Jesus, as revealed in the Gospel. In announcing the International Bishops Synod on The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church our Holy Father Benedict XVI said, “The Church’s “primary and fundamental” mission is to nourish herself on the Word of God. In fact, if the proclamation of the Gospel constitutes her reason for being and her mission, it is indispensable that the Church know and live that which she proclaims so that her preaching is credible, despite the weaknesses and poverty of the human beings who constitute her.”
But, you ask, what about the Pope and the Bishops, the Church, the Sacraments, the Mass, the Eucharist, the Liturgical Year, the Creed, Mary and the Saints? The Pope and Bishops are the representatives of Jesus, the Church is the Mystical Body of Jesus, the Sacraments are the actions of Jesus, the Mass is the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Liturgical Year re-presents the main events in the life of Jesus, the Creed is the teaching of Jesus, Mary is the mother of Jesus and the Saints are the disciples of Jesus. The rite is not the reality. Without Jesus it is all a hollow, empty ritual. We always have to be aware of institutional idolatry.
When we say Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian we are talking about division, difference and rivalry. When we say Catholic Christian, Orthodox Christian, Episcopal Christian, Lutheran Christian, Baptist Christian and Presbyterian Christian we are talking about unity, identity and cooperation. We are talking about unity in diversity.
The enemy today is not Catholic or Protestant. The enemy today is atheism and secular humanism. If there is no God, man is god. That is what secular humanism is and it is taking over our country. There is nothing as inhuman as secular humanism. As long as Christians dissipate their energies and time in fighting among themselves we cannot hope to be a match for the highly organized, deeply dedicated anti-Christian forces that are constantly gaining momentum. Divide and conquer is the strategy of the enemies of the Church. Well do they know that a house divided against it self cannot stand. (Matt. 12: 25) Instead of fighting one another, Christians should unite and fight against this real and very powerful enemy, which has already devastated Europe and now is trying to destroy our country.
It will help to keep in mind the important distinction between material heresy and formal heresy. We are not dealing with the original Reformers but with people born hundreds of years later who had absolutely nothing to do with the Reformation. Generally speaking, these people are in good faith. This is what they were taught and this is what they truly believe.
And if we engage them in honest and open dialogue we will discover that those things we hold in common far outweigh those that divide us. There is nothing like honest, open communication to dispel fears, prejudices and misunderstandings. The Declaration on Religious Freedom of the Second Vatican Council teaches that everyone is bound to follow his honest conscience and whoever does so will be saved.
On the other hand, there is no intention of demanding absolute uniformity. The Church is one, but it is also Catholic, which means universal. Jesus commissioned his apostles to go into the whole world and make disciples of all nations. (Matt. 28:19) Since each nation has its own language and culture, it means that there will not be uniformity but unity in diversity. The Gospel will not change their culture but will be inculcated in their culture like a piece of yeast that leavens the dough. The Decree on Ecumenism is very clear on this point. “While preserving unity in essentials, let all members of the Church, according to the office entrusted to them, preserve a proper freedom in the various forms of spiritual life, and discipline, in the variety of liturgical rites, and even in the theological elaborations of revealed truth. In all things let charity prevail.” (Chapter 1, 4)
I wonder if those who demand uniformity in the Church are aware that there is no uniformity anywhere in creation. The Creator did not use a cookie cutter. Everything and every one is unique and unrepeatable and indispensable. There is no uniformity even in the Creator. The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit. In the Trinity there is perfect unity in diversity. Isn’t it strange that unity in diversity, which is the very nature of God, the nature of creation, and which is the glory of God can be the cause of division, fear and resentment for us?
Finally, and most
important of all, if we cannot immediately bring about a union of faith,
we can bring about a union of love. And isn’t this what it is all
about? Scripture tells us that “God
is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.”
(1 John 4:16) “I
give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you so you
also should love one another.” (John 13: 34) Love is
the irrefutable, instantly verifiable sign of Christian identity. “This
is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one
another.” (John 13: 35) This is how the first Christians
were identified, “See
how they love one another.” (Tertullian, Apology,39.6)
By this criterion of Jesus would we be recognized as Christians?
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