Around 300 people involved in ecumenical dialogue gathered on Friday evening at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church to hear Pope Benedict speak to them about their efforts at strengthening Christian unity. The Pope told the congregation that the world needs to see the witness of a united Christian community and that this can only be achieved by a Christianity founded on a non-relativistic faith, a faith based on the certain teachings of the apostles.
The Holy Father began his address to the 250 Protestant and Orthodox leaders, who were joined by the 50 Catholics, by highlighting the impact of the ecumenical movement in the US saying, “The contribution of Christians in the United States to the ecumenical movement is felt throughout the world.”
Following a reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the Pope said, “Paul's exhortation resounds with no less vigor today. His words instill in us the confidence that the Lord will never abandon us in our quest for unity. They also call us to live in a way that bears witness to the ‘one heart and mind’”.
This call now resounds in the context of a humanity being impacted by an increasingly globalized society, said Benedict.
“Globalization has humanity poised between two poles. On the one hand, there is a growing sense of interconnectedness and interdependency between peoples even when - geographically and culturally speaking - they are far apart. This new situation offers the potential for enhancing a sense of global solidarity and shared responsibility for the well-being of mankind. On the other hand, we cannot deny that the rapid changes occurring in our world also present some disturbing signs of fragmentation and a retreat into individualism.”
This situation makes “a faithful witness to the Gospel is as urgent as ever,” he stressed. In this context, “Christians are challenged to give a clear account of the hope that they hold,” the Pope said quoting the first letter of Peter.
Pointing to some Christian churches that change their beliefs by so-called ‘prophetic actions,’ he said that often their method of interpretation is inconsistent with Scripture and Tradition.
This lack of fidelity to apostolic teaching scandalizes non-Christians because “they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself,” the Pope said. This fracturing causes some communities to “consequently give up the attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of "local options".
Yet, what is really needed, Benedict XVI explained, is a “persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel.”
The early Christian community unwaveringly believed that “its unity was both caused by, and is reflective of, the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This, in turn, suggests that the internal cohesion of believers was based on the sound integrity of their doctrinal confession,” the Pope taught.
In fact, he noted, “the core of their argument was always the historical fact of Jesus' bodily resurrection from the tomb.”
Although some people teach that Christianity’s original message has lost its power in the modern world, the Pope was firm that it has not.
Instead, he said that we must ask whether the Gospel has been diluted by “a relativistic approach to Christian doctrine similar to that found in secular ideologies, which, in alleging that science alone is "objective", relegate religion entirely to the subjective sphere of individual feeling.”
The consequence of Christians accepting “this faulty line of reasoning”, the Pope said, is the “notion that there is little need to emphasize objective truth in the presentation of the Christian faith, for one need but follow his or her own conscience and choose a community that best suits his or her individual tastes. The result is seen in the continual proliferation of communities which often eschew institutional structures and minimize the importance of doctrinal content for Christian living.”
“Some within the ecumenical movement have been reluctant to assert the role of doctrine for fear that it would only exacerbate rather than heal the wounds of division,” Benedict XVI noted.
“Yet a clear, convincing testimony to the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus has to be based upon the notion of normative apostolic teaching: a teaching which indeed underlies the inspired word of God and sustains the sacramental life of Christians today.”
“This is the message which the world is waiting to hear from us,” Benedict said.
He closed his address with the words of Father Paul Wattson, a founder of the ecumenical movement, by praying that, with God’s grace “we will achieve the ‘oneness of hope, oneness of faith, and oneness of love’ that alone will convince the world that Jesus Christ is the one sent by the Father for the salvation of all.”
To read the speech in its entirety click here.