A Catholic Bishop’s reflection on The Reformation

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A talk given at Trinity Lutheran Church, Elkhart on October 23, 2017

I wish to begin this talk entitled “A Catholic Bishop’s Reflection on the Reformation” with a word of deep thanks to Pastor Spencer Mielke, Senior Pastor Robert Schallhorn, and Associate Pastor Christopher Davis, for the invitation to speak to you this evening. I wish to express to you my joy and gratitude also for the growing friendship in Christ between the Trinity Lutheran Church congregation and Saint Pius X Parish in Granger. I am very happy to see this friendship, a local expression of the holy quest for Christian unity that marks our commitment as Catholics and Lutherans to the restoration of full communion between us. Together we believe that Christ calls all His disciples to unity. We know that this is a great challenge, especially after 500 years of separation. It is a difficult path in many ways, yet we can give thanks to God for the progress that has been made in this journey the past fifty years. As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation will be commemorated next week, I think it is a good time not only to reflect on what happened 500 years ago, but also to recognize and celebrate the ecumenical progress of the past 50 years. We know that there are still doctrinal differences that need to be resolved, yet great strides have been made, especially in overcoming misunderstandings and prejudices from the past. Together in ecumenical dialogue, Catholics and Lutherans have reexamined our painful past. There has been mutual acknowledgment of mistakes and faults on both sides. This continues to take place today. It requires humility and a truthful vision of things.

As we move forward together, we also recognize that continual progress needs to be made and that no progress can be made without the grace of the Holy Spirit. We believe in the power of the Lord as we long for that day when we can gather together at the table of the Lord in the Eucharist. The commitment to ecumenism is not an optional element of our Christian faith. It is an essential element because our belief in Christ is a belief also in Christian unity as His will. On the eve of His sacrifice on the cross, Our Lord prayed to the Father for His disciples that “they might be one.” Our division contradicts the will of Our Lord. The Second Vatican Council stated that our division “openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the Good News to every creature” (UR 1).

I have been asked to share with you my reflections as a Catholic bishop on the Reformation. This is quite a daunting task because I am not a historian of the Reformation. Of course, as a seminarian, I studied Church history, including the history of the Protestant Reformation. As a seminarian, I also took a course on Martin Luther taught by Professor Jared Wicks at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Still, I am no expert on Martin Luther or the Reformation. As part of my experience as a bishop, I have been involved in the ecumenical movement. Most significantly, I was appointed by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity as the Catholic Co-Chair of the International Catholic – Reformed Theological Dialogue, a position in which I served for six years. During those years, our discussions helped pave the way for the Reformed Communion’s initial acceptance of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the historic declaration by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.

I must also mention my own personal experience that I bring with me in these reflections. My father was Lutheran and came from a strong Lutheran family. His marriage to my mother, a Catholic from a strong Catholic family, was not readily accepted by either family. There were prejudices on both sides. So I grew up seeing the differences, but I also saw a grow