A Week for Christian Unity on a Christian Campus

This morning ACT3 Network begins a new ministry that is, so far as I can tell, a first. It is certainly a first for our mission. I share this news because I believe it is ground-breaking and because I humbly need your prayers. You can read an excellent article about this coming week in the Daily Herald.

AboutJudsonBannerJudson University (Elgin, IL) is located about a half hour northwest of my home in Carol Stream (IL). I have ministered in various contexts and ways on the Judson campus for well over forty years. It is a historically Baptist college. Judson is an evangelical Christian university that says it “represents the Church at work in higher education, equipping students to be fully developed, responsible persons who glorify God by the quality of their personal relationships, their work, and their citizenship within the community, the nation and the world.”

The Judson University website also adds, on it home page: “The Judson community experience challenges graduates to be decisive leaders and active participants in church and society, articulate proponents of Biblical Christianity, persuasive advocates for the sovereignty of God over all life, and effective ambassadors for Christ.”

Fr. BaimaWhen I spoke in chapel at Judson last year I shared a meal, a few weeks later, with the new campus chaplain, Christopher Lash. As I talked with this wonderful young man I encouraged the idea of a Week for Christian Unity in chapel. I explored this idea by suggesting that we have three chapels in one week all focused on Christ and unity. I would preach from John 17 on Monday (October 6), at 10:00 a.m. A Catholic priest, my dear friend Fr. Tom Baima, would speak on Wednesday (October 8) at 10:00 a.m. from Matthew 28:18-20. I would introduce Tom and be there all week to connect the lines for Christian unity.

Then on Friday (October 10), at 10:00 a.m., I will introduce our final speaker, Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth, an Orthodox priest at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Warrenville, IL. Fr. Ellsworth, one of my dearest and best friends, has served on the ACT3 board and was the chairman of the board for many years. He will speak from Luke 24 this Friday.


In an email to the various participants in this Christian Unity Week at Judson Chaplain Christopher Lash wrote us the following:

Some points I want to specifically mention:

1) I have met with these gentlemen personally and have corresponded with them regarding the purpose of this series. All who will speak are on board with the vision and are excited to participate.
2) The purpose/vision for the event is to discuss our similarities rather than exalt our differences. It is important for students to see that we stand together on the central creeds and the centrality of Jesus Christ.
From Father Baima’s transcript, “I think I speak for the other preachers when I say that the value of this Christian unity week of chapel sermons lies in recognizing that Christian fraternity extends beyond one’s own community’s boundaries and that in the increasingly hostile, secular environment of 21st century America, Christians of different communities have found sufficient agreement between us to collaborate in mission, even as we continue to engage one another theologically about significant disagreements.”
3) I have asked each minister to speak on the gospel as informed by their tradition. The goal is for students to walk away from chapel this next week seeing that the gospel is rich and deep and that Jesus does, indeed, extend grace, love, mercy, and freedom to men and women. Their discussion of the gospel will certainly be informed by their tradition but will not be dominated by it. The reason I trust these men is because they value seeing Jesus’ name made grand over evangelizing for their tradition, especially in respect to our “conservative, evangelical university in the Baptist tradition” (excerpt from cover letter from Fr. Baima).
Another excerpt from Fr. Baima’s transcript: 
Now, I’m not here to tell you about the Catholic Church. I’m here to preach to you about a biblical text, which, of course, I will do out of my experience of knowing and living with Jesus in the Catholic Church.”
4) The format will not be what is usual to our chapel. I have asked Rebekah TenHaken (Chapel Advisor) and Aaron Niequist (Leader of The Practice at Willow) to guide us in opening worship, gearing it towards the tradition we will be hearing from that particular chapel day. Rebekah will open on Monday and Friday and Aaron and Rebekah will lead together on Wednesday. Then the speaker will have 25-30 minutes.
I am looking forward to this series because I believe this will show the Millennials that there is far more unity living in Christianity than dogged points of discord.

The goal for this week is quite modest, but filled with life-changing potential: Introduce students and faculty to the wider Christian tradition and church in a personal way so that they can “see” what it looks like when we stand together in the love of Christ in their community.

Judson has a fair number of Catholic students and a few students who are not Christians at all. Pray that all the students will be amazed at this open demonstration of the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. If God favors this effort it will impact young lives for years to come. By such means ACT3 fulfills its purpose: “To empower churches and leaders for unity in Christ’s mission.”

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, Unity of the Church | 14 Comments/Likes

Chicago Gets a New Archbishop: Does the Media Understand the Church?

I have come to the conclusion that the media rarely gets the “tone” right when it comes to reporting on religion. This is true in reporting on all religion but in particular it is true with regard to Christianity in particular. I have some ideas about why this is so. But none of them involve conspiracies or the demonic. On the whole I believe that journalists and reporters have little or no first-hand experience of the church. They provide honest reporting with an interpretative angle that is often slanted by presuppositions about Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular.

UnknownI’ve seen this once again in Chicago over the last two weeks as the media has covered the story of the next Archbishop of the Diocese of Chicago, Bishop Blase Cupich (pronounced sue-pitch) of Spokane, Washington. After various television and print media sources said the pope had sent a “message” by this appointment to which Bishop Cupich stated very humbly, “I think he sent a pastor not a message.” Yet the Chicago Tribune headline still read: “Pope sends a pastor – and a message.”

To read the local newspapers and watch the television media you’d think that Bishop Cupich is a liberal Catholic. Here is one of the ways the Chicago Tribune reported the story in the Sunday, September 21st, edition:

But Cupich’s appointment as Chicago’s ninth archbishop sent a clear signal that the church is changing under this pope, and that Chicago will be a prominent laboratory for that change, according to experts on the church.

The reader is never told, however, who these experts are or where they got this information. And to further add to the misperception the Tribune added, in the very next paragraph no less, that: “Unlike [Cardinal] George’s sometimes rigid approach to upholding church doctrine, Cupich has spent his 16 years as a bishop often in a more conciliatory mode.” What does this mean? Well, it means the writers still think in liberal and conservative categories, categories that often do not work well inside the church. Exhibit A – in the very next sentence the Tribune says that Bishop Cupich was the leader for the opposition to same-sex marriage in Washington state! How then, I simply ask, could this stance equal what they just claimed about the new archbishop? (Cupich will be installed on November 18, 2014.)

I think the most irritating and misleading part of the story the media is telling the public is that of Cardinal George. One reporter says this new appointment represents “the start of an unprecedented transition in the city’s Roman Catholic Church, in which no other leader has lived long enough to meet the man taking his place.” Unknown-1Another reporter refers to Cardinal George’s “sometimes rigid approach to upholding church doctrine.” Citing Cupich’s work on immigration reform the writers for the Tribune again tried to pit Cupich against George as if the new archbishop will be a moderate, loving and open archbishop as opposed to the outgoing one. This is so much nonsense and reveals my central point. The media doesn’t get it. The Catholic Church has not shifted its emphasis on moral theology one iota by this move. There is not one scintilla of evidence for this antithesis.

Cardinal George is one of the kindest, most humane and brilliant men I’ve ever know. He is in no way inflexible or closed-minded. He is, and this is truly important, a faithful Catholic bishop. Does he have a personality and is he innately shy? You bet. But this man is insightful, pastoral and deeply spiritual. Because he has spoken out on several moral issues does not make him an old, out-of-touch, rigidly conservative cleric. Nor does the outgoing personality of the new archbishop make him a liberal. Cupich might be more pastoral in his tone and nuance but he will reflect the teachings of his church in his own pastoral way, not in the way the Chicago Tribune thinks he should or will.

Buried inside these major stories in the September 21 issue of the Chicago Tribune is a lot of great information about both George and Cupich. I have had the joy of knowing Cardinal George as my personal friend the last three years. I hope I will have the same joy with the new archbishop. (Cupich was born in the same year that I was, 1949! I cannot imagine assuming his duties at this stage of my life the more I think about my own aging.)

I pray that Francis Cardinal George will finish well and experience great peace as he struggles with life-threatening illness in the coming days. And I pray that the new Archbishop designate Blase Cupich will be granted a plentitude of grace and love to serve well in the days ahead. Like any great city Chicago needs great spiritual leadership. I believe Cardinal George has been that kind of servant. I also believe the new archbishop will prove to be a fine pastor and leader. I also believe that he will faithfully continue the great work that many of us have done for ecumenism in this great city. Please pray with me to this end if you love the whole people of God.

Posted in Current Affairs, Ideology, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 6 Comments/Likes

Gospel Call – A Unique Event for Local Congregations

unity_gospel_callMy friend Fr. Tom Ryan, C.S.P, partners with me in helping to facilitate an event three times each year that is co-sponsored by three or more local congregations in a town or city in the U.S. or Canada. The event is offered in both two-day and four-day versions. Please see this agenda outline for more information about the schedule, topics, and agenda offered in each version.

Available dates for 2015: 
January 18-21
May 30-June 3
November 15-18

– Read feedback from Gospel Call participants


  • Provide Christian believers with an opportunity to discover, experience, and express our unity in Christ. The overarching objective of this event is to respond to the Gospel call to reconciliation with God and one another. Whole congregations of believers from different traditions are invited to experience afresh our unity in Christ through worship, spiritual growth, and mission.
  • Deepen Christians’ sense of solidarity with one another. By engaging together in an experience of prayer, faith-sharing, and fellowship over four days, people come to know one another better and perceive each other as belonging to the same body of Christ. By providing people with an experience of how all that they hold in common in Christ is much deeper than anything that divides them, hearts and ways of relating are changed.
  • Enable the co-sponsoring of local congregations to envision their mission differently. Each congregation may have previously envisioned its mission and deployment of human and material resources only in terms of its own members. Now, through a significant experience of planning, praying, and acting together, they are prompted to ask: “What else can we do together?” Gospel Call then becomes a faith renewal experience which energizes local churches to serve their common Lord together.
  • Identify concrete ways that the co-sponsoring congregations can act together in the future. By the time the mission ends, a wide array of representatives from the participating congregations will have been led in a process of looking together at what they are doing, what resources they draw upon, and how they might work together to better serve their own members and respond to the needs of the society in which they live.


  • Gains have been made. Tremendous convergence has taken place among the churches through the liturgical and biblical renewals and the ecumenical movement. The theologians have registered significant progress in resolving centuries-old church-dividing questions. Church representatives on dialogue commissions have had the experience of growing together in faith. Such opportunities now need to be made available to the wider church membership.
  • Church members need an opportunity to ‘receive’ those gains. The present ecumenical emphasis at the grass roots is to provide church members with increased opportunities for sharing faith, life, and common mission in the name of Jesus Christ. The time has now come to take gains in church unity efforts “to the pews”. Gospel Call offers church members the opportunities to see for themselves how their mission outreach in evangelization and for justice and peace, their modes of worship and spiritual practices all reflect a common inspiration and purpose.
  • The unity we seek must find an increasingly visible expression. It is not enough for Christian solidarity to exist solely at an invisible, mental level. The primary mission of the church is to evangelize, and as long as local communities of believers live in separation and alienation from each other, the gospel of reconciliation they bring lacks credibility. For the glory of God and in obedience to the gospel call to unity in Christ, it is important for churches to give a positive witness to our surrounding society by serving, playing, working and praying together wherever they can.
  • Individual believers need opportunities for faith renewal. Gospel Call seeks to provide Christians who take their spiritual lives, prayer and church ministry seriously with opportunities for personal growth, learning and faith enrichment.


  • Overall picture A four-day faith-renewal event designed to bring people into each other’s churches where they may listen to a common gospel preached by ministers of two different traditions, and, moved by the same Holy Spirit who dwells in the hearts of all, unite their hearts, minds, and voices in prayers, songs, and intercessions to the glory of God.
  • Preaching the Word of God A preaching team of two ordained ministers, Roman Catholic and Protestant, preaches individually during at least one Sunday service in each of the co-sponsoring congregations if logistically possible.
  • Prayer together in different churches The service is held in a different church each evening to provide participants with an opportunity to pray together in each other’s worship spaces. The pastor of the hosting church presides; the missioners preach and lead all participants in a ritual emphasizing the commonality of our faith.
  • Fellowship On Sunday evening, preceding the evening service, there is a potluck supper, jointly sponsored and organized by the participating congregations. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, following the evening services, everyone is invited to gather in the hosting congregation’s fellowship hall for refreshments and socializing.
  • Christian Education and Faith Development Once during the course of each weekday, a different spiritual growth and development opportunity is offered by the missioners in the form of a breakfast workshop for people on their way to work in the morning, a mid-morning Bible study, and a luncheon reflection. Similarly, these sessions are located in the various churches to provide people with an opportunity to become comfortable entering into each other’s churches.
  • Follow-through On the last night, Wednesday, people who are engaged in similar ministries in the various co-sponsoring congregations come together, e.g. youth ministry; liturgy and music; administration; social action; Christian education. In a session that begins and ends with prayer, the missioners lead representatives from the different parishes in a process of sharing with one another what they do, the resources they use, and whether there are any ways they could support each other’s efforts or act together. When the various reports from the group discussions come in, particular attention is given to what they might be able to do together. A list of possibilities is created, and participants are asked to arrange them in order of priorities. This input provides provides direction for ongoing collaboration between the local churches as they face the future.
  • Who sponsors it? Local congregations. As few as three or as many as eight.

Gospel Call…

  • Deepens Christians’ sense of identity and solidarity with one another.
  • Enables the co-sponsoring congregations to envision their mission differently
  • Identifies concrete ways that congregations can act together in the future
  • Increases awareness of the biblical call to unity in faith, worship, and mission

tom_ryanIf you are interested in this faith renewal event for a cluster of local congregations in your town or city, contact Fr. Tom Ryan:

Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations
North American Paulist Center
3015 Fourth Street, N.E.
Washington, DC  20017-1102

Phone: 202-269-2511
Fax: 202-269-2507

E-mail: tomryan@paulist.org

Posted in ACT 3, Gospel/Good News, Missional-Ecumenism, The Church, Unity of the Church | 1 Comment/Like

An Account of the Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation

Lausanne-2014-GatheringMany of you already know that ACT3 facilitated the recent Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical
dialogue. One of the participants, Fr. René Constanza, wrote a report of our meeting for the website of the Paulist Fathers. Fr. René’s clear and accurate repot follows. Continue to pray for the follow-up of this significant gathering. If you would like to help ACT3 cover the expenses from this event we are still about $3,500 below budget. (We paid for some to attend who could not otherwise have participated.) A video of the public meeting will soon be available on this site.

This gathering was held at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois on September 11-13, 2014. This was a gathering of 13 Catholic and 13 Evangelical Protestant leaders to discern ways in which the Lord is leading us to foster evangelization and His mission. This dialogue is part of the Lausanne Global Conversation—a catalyst in creating partnerships and alliances among Christian leaders committed to pray, plan, and work together in proclaiming the life-giving gospel in a contemporary and culturally appropriate manner.

The Lausanne Movement on World Evangelization takes its name from the first global congress of evangelical leaders in Lausanne, Switzerland in July, 1974. From an international congress to a working committee and now a movement, the Lausanne Movement is neither a church nor an alliance of churches but a movement under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Since its inception, the aim has been the continuation of the mission of Christ in our world through the primary means of proclamation of the Gospel, especially to those who have not heard about the person and works of Jesus Christ.

This year’s gathering at Mundelein started with a plenary meeting. Opened to the public, the meeting featured a bilingual conversation on the topic, “Pope Francis and Unity in Mission between Catholics and Evangelicals.” Leading the discussion were presentations by Dr. Norberto Saracco, a Pentecostal Pastor/Rector of Theological Institute (FIET), and Fr. Robert Barron, Rector of Mundelein Seminary and founder of Word on Fire.

Dr. Saracco spoke fervently of his personal friendship with Pope Francis which dates back to when the pope was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. In his personal testimony of encounters with the then Cardinal Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Dr. Saracco emphasized that for the pope the ecumenical endeavor is not a program but a work of the Holy Spirit who brings Christians together for prayer, fellowship and mission. He gave an example when he spoke of the first time that he met the Cardinal in 2001 (the year of the worst economic and social crisis in Argentina) at a gathering between the Evangelical National Council leaders and the Argentinean Catholic bishops. They came together to discuss religious equality. After the prayer service Cardinal Bergoglio addressed the gathering by saying, “We can’t be here discussing a project when our people are convulsing and desperate…. Let us plan to do something together by gathering our resources for the service of the people.” Dr. Sarraco pointed out that the Holy Spirit continues inviting Catholics and Evangelicals to find one another in prayer and in the mission of Jesus Christ. Dr. Saracco believes that this, without downplaying the ecclesiological, theological and doctrinal divisions, should be given priority over the unity of ecclesiastical institution.

In his address, Fr. Barron mentioned that Pope Francis’ outreach to Evangelicals as pointed out in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) is grounded in more substantial theological commitments. For instance, Pope Francis’ call for all Christians to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ does not undermine the importance of the Church, which for Fr. Barron the Catholic ecclesiology affirms as the “prolongation of the Incarnation across space and time, the mystical body of Jesus through which people come to an encounter with the Lord.” As such, Christians are called to be successful evangelists by bringing the joy of the proclamation of the gospel through “the splendor and radiance of their way of life, before he or she would get to explicit doctrine and moral commands.” He challenged all participants to move forward in making visible their witness in prayer and service, something which requires no compromise to their own theological convictions.

Keeping in mind the opening address by both Dr. Saracco and Fr. Barron, the Lausanne dialogue was animated by all participants sharing their personal testimonies of their work and passion for Christian unity. This year’s gathering was like an incubator of ideas and relationships that were prompted by the Holy Spirit to foster unity amidst their diversity as brothers and sisters in Christ. Participants felt encouraged to see Pope Francis as a model in building personal relationships with brothers and sisters in other Christian churches, in praying together in the Spirit of our Lord, and serving side by side the most needy and vulnerable in our communities. Doing so will not only make our unity in mission visible but also make credible the invitation for others to experience the joy that a life in Christ brings. All for the greater glory of God.

constanza_fall_14Rev. René Constanza, CSP, is a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle (Paulist Fathers) and parochial vicar at St. Austin’s parish in the Diocese of Austin, Texas. Parish missions in the U.S. Hispanic context has opened his eyes to the need and importance of the ecumenical dimension of mission.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Missional-Ecumenism, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 8 Comments/Likes

Pope’s Address to the Focolare Movement (Revised)

The Focolare Movement, which has had a very significant role in my journey over the past three years, gathered in Italy for their annual General Assembly last week. Pope Francis used the occasion to send a special address to the members of friends of the movement. I share the English translation and encourage you to get to know this work better and to pray for the Focolare. The members of the movement have been an immense blessing to me personally.

This translation has been revised and edited by Focolare member, and ACT3 Network board member, Tom Masters. Tom is also editorial director for New City Press, the publishing house for the Focolare in the United States. The first edition of the pope’s address that I posted earlier today had some inaccuracies that Tom has now graciously corrected. An “official” translation from Italian has not yet been offered by the Vatican.

* * *

UnknownPope’s Address to Focolare Movement

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet you all, who make up the General Assembly of The Work of Mary, and seek to live it fully inserted in the Church of “today.” In a special way, I greet Maria Voce, who was reconfirmed President for another six years. In thanking her for the words she addressed to me, also in your name, I express to her and to those who work most closely with her my cordial wishes for profitable work at the service of the Movement, which has grown in these years and has been enriched by new works and activities, also in the Roman Curia.

Fifty years after Vatican II, the Church is called to undertake a new stage of evangelization, witnessing God’s to every human person, beginning with the poorest and those who are excluded, and to make humanity’s journey toward unity grow with hope, fraternity, and joy.

The Work of Mary – known by everyone as the Focolare Movement – was born in the heart of the Catholic Church from a small seed that, over the years, has generated a tree that now spreads its branches in all the expressions of the Christian family and also among members of different religions and among many who cherish justice and solidarity together with the search for truth. Without a doubt, this Work flows from a gift of the Holy Spirit – the charism of unity that the Father wishes to give to the Church and to the world to contribute to fulfill incisively and prophetically Jesus’s prayer: “that they may all be one” (Jn 17:21).

Our thought turns with great affection and gratitude to Chiara Lubich, an extraordinary witness of this gift, who in her fruitful life introduced the fragrance of Jesus’ presence to so many human realities and to so many parts of the world. Faithful to the charism from which it was born and by which it nourishes itself, the Focolare Movement finds itself today before the same task that concerns the whole Church: to offer, with responsibility and creativity, its particular contribution to this new stage of evangelization. Creativity is important; one cannot go forward without it. It is important! And, in this context, I would like to present three ideas to you, who belong to the Focolare Movement and to those who, in various ways, share its spirit and ideals: to contemplate, to go out, and to school.

First of all, to contemplate. Today we have more need than ever to contemplate God and the wonders of His love, to dwell in Him, who in Jesus came to pitch His tent among us (see Jn 1:14). To contemplate means, moreover, to live in the company of brothers and sisters, to break with them the Bread of communion and fraternity, to pass together through the Door (see Jn 10:9), which takes us into the bosom of the Father (see Jn 1:18), because “authentic contemplation always has a place for others” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 281). If it does not, it is narcissism.

Inspired by God in response to the signs of the times, Unknown-1Chiara Lubich wrote: “This is the great attraction of modern times; to penetrate to the highest contemplation while mingling with everyone, one person alongside others” (Essential Writings 169). To put this into effect, it is necessary to widen one’s inner life to the measure of Jesus and of the gift of His Spirit, to make contemplation the indispensable condition to act effectively, in solidarity with others, an action that is truly free and pure.

I encourage you to remain faithful to this ideal of contemplation, to persevere in the search for unity with God and in mutual love with brothers and sisters, drawing from the riches of the Word of God and of the Tradition of the Church the heartfelt desire for communion and unity that the Holy Spirit has called forth in our time. And make a gift of this treasure to all!

The second word – very important because it expresses the movement of evangelization, is to go out. To go out as Jesus went out from the bosom of the Father to proclaim the Word of love to all, to the point of giving of himself completely on the wood of the cross. We must learn from Him, from Jesus, this “drive to go forth and give, to go out from ourselves, to keep pressing forward” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 21), to communicate the love of God generously to all, with respect and, as the Gospel teaches us: “You received without payment; give without payment.” (Mt 10:8). This sense of gratuitousness: because the Redemption was accomplished in gratuitousness. The forgiveness of sins cannot be “paid for.” Christ “paid” for it once and for all! We must put into action the gratuitousness of the Redemption with our brothers and sisters. We must give what we have received with gratuitousness, freely. And gratuitousness goes together with creativity: the two go together.

To do this, we must become experts in that art called “dialogue,” and that is not learned cheaply. We cannot be content with half measures, we cannot dally, but rather, with God’s help, we must aim high and widen our perspective! And to do this, we must “go [forth] to Him” with courage “outside the camp, bear[ing] the abuse He endured” (Heb 13:13). He awaits us in the trials and groaning of our brothers and sisters, in the wounds of society and in the questions of contemporary culture. One is sick at heart when, before a Church, before a humanity with so many wounds, moral wounds, existential wounds, wounds of war, which we all feel every day, to see Christians beginning to engage in philosophical, theological and spiritual  “Byzantinisms,” instead of in a spirituality that goes out. To go out with this spirituality: not to stay shut-in within our four walls. This is not good. This is “Byzantinism”! Today we have no right to such Byzantine reflection. We must go out! Because – I have said it other times – the Church resembles a field hospital. And when one goes to a field hospital, the first task is to cure the wounds, not to check the cholesterol levels … that comes later. Is this clear?

And, finally, the third word: to school. In the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, Saint John Paul II invited the whole Church to become “the home and school of communion” (see. n. 43), and you took this order seriously. As the Gospel requires, we must form new men and women and, necessary to this end, is a school of humanity to the measure of the humanity of Jesus.  In fact, He is the new Man that young people can look to at all times, that they can fall in love with, whose way they can follow to address the challenges that are before them. Without an adequate endeavor of formation for the new generations, it is illusory to think that a serious and lasting project can be carried out at the service of a new humanity.

In her time Chiara Lubich coined an expression which continues to be very timely: today – she said – “world men and women” must be formed, men and women with the spirit, heart, and mind of Jesus and, therefore, able to recognize and interpret the needs, the concerns and the hopes that reside in every person’s heart.

Dear sisters and dear brothers, I hope that your Assembly will bear abundant fruits, and I thank you for your generous commitment. May Mary, our Mother, help you to walk always with confidence, with courage and with perseverance, with creativity, gratuitously and in communion with the whole Church, on paths of light and life traced by the Holy Spirit. I bless you and, please, I ask you to pray for me, because I need it. Thank you!

[Original text: Italian]

[Translation by ZENIT, revised by T. Masters]


Posted in Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future | 6 Comments/Likes

The Reformation of the Vatican – The Sad Case of Józef Wesołowski

JOSEF WESOLOWSKIVatican watchers, especially non-Catholics who love the Roman Catholic Church as I do, watch and pray for further reforms that are needed inside the Church. I was pleased to read this week of the Vatican putting Józef Wesołowski, its former nuncio (ambassador) to the Dominican Republic under house arrest on Tuesday, September 23.

Archbishop Józef Wesołowski was born in Nowy Targ, Poland, on 15 July 1948. He was ordained a priest in Kraków on 21 May 1972 by Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II. He was appointed as nuncio to Bolivia on 3 November 1999. On 6 January 2000 he was consecrated Titular Archbishop of Sléibhte by John Paul II. During the course of 2002 he was appointed as nuncio to the Central Asian countries of KazakhstanTajikistanKyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. On 24 January 2008 he was appointed nuncio to the Dominican Republic. In 2013 he was identified by a 13-year-old boy as the man who took sexual lurid photographs of him on his cell phone. He was removed from his nuncio position on August 26 last year via resignation.

According to various reports Józef Wesołowski liked to frequent areas of Santo Domingo where poor children worked in the streets. He paid for sexually suggestive poses and actions and then filmed them.  A criminal trial has begun against Wesolowski, the first time a high-ranking Vatican official has ever faced criminal charges for sexually abusing minors. Some will rightly say, “It’s about time.” I agree. But it has finally happened and I rejoice. Sad as these cases are the Vatican has clearly begun a well-thought-out campaign to deal with them more aggressively. Under the beloved John Paul II the Vatican quite clearly dragged its heels. (The reasons are quite complex but not excusable in the end.) Under Pope Benedict XVI there was improvement but much more action was needed by the church in dealing with sexual predators. Now the changes are becoming more significant and noteworthy. I think we must pray that they become a permanent part of the modern Catholic culture. The whole cause of Christ suffers when such cases are not dealt with by firm church discipline and civil law.

On 27 June 2014, the Vatican Press Office announced that the first stage of the canonical trial of Wesołowski Unknownended with his laicisation. A laicized cleric is forbidden to exercise ministerial functions under nearly all circumstances. In general, any exercise of his power to administer the sacraments is considered valid but illicit, except in extraordinary circumstances. On 23 September, the Vatican opened a hearing toward criminal proceedings against Wesołowski. Because of his health, he remains under house arrest for the duration of his trial rather than under more restrictive detention. On Tuesday, the Vatican City State’s separate criminal curate opened a preliminary hearing into the case and ordered this house arrest.

I have commented infrequently about these abuse cases. The reasons for my reticence are several. First, I do not know enough about canon law to explain the Catholic Church’s response adequately. Second, I am not a Catholic. Third, I believe the culture of protect and reassign is deadly to the church’s pastoral and missional work. I wanted to see positive proof of significant change. I now think we have that in this particular case. This does not undo the wrongs of the past but it is the only response to the past that is correct. There must be repentance followed by a correction of the errors.

I know that the general public expects a higher standard of moral discipline from all churches, Catholic or otherwise. It seems to me that the Catholic view of the priesthood has presented some significant hurdles for pursuing a full and complete investigation that leads to serious action against prelates who have violated children. I am very pleased that Pope Francis has acted to reform this process. It appears that Pope Benedict hoped this would happen under a new pope. Now we are finally seeing the fruit of this much-needed reform. It is overdue, to say the least. We should all pray it impacts the church globally for the good of all Christians, thus for our common witness to the world.

Posted in Culture, Current Affairs, Ethics, Pastoral Renewal, Personal, Renewal, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future | 13 Comments/Likes

ACT3 September Forum on Friendship in Diversity

act3logoOn Tuesday, September 2, 2014, ACT3 hosted its first fall evening forum. Our subject was Christian diversity and deep friendship. I invited an Orthodox priest, Fr. Wilbur Ellsworth, and a Catholic author and editor, Tom Masters, to join me for a dialogue about how we share deep friendship and still remain committed to very different Christian traditions: Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.

Fr. Ellsworth was a Baptist minister for decades before entering the Orthodox Church about seven years ago. He has been my friend for decades and is the former chairman of the ACT3 Network board of directors. He now pastors Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Warrenville, Illinois. Mr. Tom Masters is a life-long Catholic, a former teacher and the editorial director of New City Press, the publishing house of the Focolare a lay-Catholic movement I have shared a great deal with in recent years. Tom currently serves on the ACT3 board.

I, as most of you already know, am an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). I do not currently pastor a stated congregation but remain in good standing with my Reformed denomination. I am a lifelong Protestant and deeply committed to a Reformed understanding of the church and the way in which salvation is mediated to those who believe in Christ. Yet I am also a practicing ecumenist who seeks to develop deeper friendships with my brothers and sisters from the entire Christian Church.

So I came up with the idea of a friendly dialogue which would allow us to talk to one another and then answer questions from the audience. The dialogue is nearly 90 minutes long. Click here to listen.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, Orthodoxy, Personal, Protestantism, Reformed Christianity, Roman Catholicism, The Church, Unity of the Church | 2 Comments/Likes

Love Alone Is Eternal (Part Eleven)

UnknownOne of the greatest contemporary spiritual writers I have happily encountered in the last few years is Carlo Carretto (1910-1988). Carretto was a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, the order inspired by the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld. Through his best-selling Letters from the Desert, and more than a dozen other books, Carlo Carretto gave to Christians a joy-filled spirituality centered deeply in God’s love. Carretto showed us that it was possible to live a contemplative life in the midst of a very busy, modern world.

One of Carlo Carretto’s most moving reflections, which includes translations of his original Italian, reflects the sense of where I hope you will go with me as we discover that our love is too small.

Like God

If we are not capable during our lifetime of falling in love with God, we are lost.

Without love we are incomplete, immature, bored, missing paradise.

We would be doubtful and formulate the following equation: love of God equals peace, joy, bliss, fecundity, exultation, paradise; lack of love equals war, sadness, loneliness, sterility, death, hell . . .

“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48).

The requirements of the kingdom are the same requirements of love, which, by its very nature, sees us or makes us all equal.

The love of God complex us to become like God, similar to God, with the just that follow God.

There is no way out.

Since God loves the light , we too should love the light.

Since God forgives, we too must forgive.

Since God dies for love, we too should be ready to die for love.

To build the kingdom means precisely to work and act to become similar to God, following Christ as a model.

The kingdom is not built by our chatting, but rather by our acting.

The kingdom advances every time we carry our a concrete deed in response to love, which is God.

Every time I feed the hungry,

Every time I visit the imprisoned,

Every time I clothe the naked,

Every time I forgive the enemy,

Every time I share my belongings,

Every time I console the afflicted,

Every time I pray for the living and the dead.

Moreover, since love calls for equality, we shall love God with the same power of God’s love for us.

Which is, in one word, paradise (Joseph Diele, ed. Daily Reflections of Carol Carretto. New Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1996, 112-13). Unknown-1

Posted in Biblical Theology, Love, Mysticism, Personal, Spirituality | 4 Comments/Likes

Love Alone Is Eternal (Part Ten)

Most of us realize that life is more than our limited experience of day-to-day activity. We believe there is a God we believe that it is he who sustains the world. We further believe that it is God who made us. But moments of wonder and transcendence do not mean that we know God really loves us. Explaining the world, and especially our own lives, without a personal, sustaining and loving God seems impossible. The alternative is an accident, or worse yet, pure fate!

When John says “God is love” we are prone to think, “That’s really nice.” Then a dozen popular and cheerful songs flood our minds about love, sweet love, what the world needs a little more of we say. We conceive of someone who cheers us up by being sunny and happy. But the biblical writers didn’t sing these kinds of songs or conceive of this kind of sunny personality. They surely didn’t have these ideas in mind when they spoke of God being love. Love, for the biblical writers, is the will to do good for another person, even at great cost to one’s own person. The God who is Trinity is a God who is passionately committed to the good of the other. The God who is Father, Son and Spirit is such a loving God. The Father shares an eternal loving relationship with the Son and is passionate about his well-being. The Son has this same love for his Father. And the Spirit overflows in love for the Father and the Son and is equally committed to whatever is good for them.

Love is the perfection of God’s being. “This means it is not something temporary or accidental to him. All of his being is love. To speak of God apart from his love is to speak of someone other than God” (Kelly M. Kapic, with Justin Borger. God So Loved, He Gave: Entering the Movement of Divine Generosity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010, pegs 18-19).

The Great Imperative

All true and healthy relationships must be grounded in love or they will not endure to the end. There are many ways to command attention, even to create allegiance, but there is only one way to bind ourselves to one another relationally in the deepest possible way and it is divine love.

UnknownChiara Lubich understood divine well when she said:

God-love, believing in his love, responding to his love by loving, these are the great imperatives today. This is the essential thing that today’s generation has been waiting for. Without it the world is heading for destruction, like a train off the tracks, Discovering, or rather, rediscovering that God is Love is today’s greatest adventure (Essential Writings, 56).

The great imperative is this – we are to love the One who is Love. God’s immense, infinite, tender, immortal and all holy love calls us to love. We love many things. But let us love the One who does not die.

In a June 1944 letter, written during the ravages of war on the ground and in the sky over Northern Italy a young, unmarried, school teacher discovered this life-changing truth. This young woman wrote a personal letter about her discovery of God’s love. She spoke of this discovery as an infusion of “light” and “love.” Through this infusion of the Spirit the love of God became present in her life as she’d never known. She wrote extensively of this love to a friend.

You have been blinded with me by the fiery brilliance of an Ideal that exceeds all things and contains all: by the infinite love of God! It is he, he my God and your God, who has established a bond between us that is stronger than death . . . . It is Love who has called us to love! It is love who has spoken to the deaths of our hearts and told us: “Look around you. Everything in the world passes away. Every day sees its evening, and how quickly each evening comes . . . Love that which does not die! Love the one who is love!” Love, love, love. People are created to love. Yes there is suffering in the world, but for the one who loves, suffering is nothing; even martyrdom is a song! Even the cross is a song. God is love! Every suffering is a sure test of love, its unmistakable divine seal. . . . Therefore we cannot let any sorrow in our lives go by without accepting it and desiring it, so as to prove to God, who is infinite love, our own little but steadfast love! Let’s leave out hearts with just one desire: to love! Let’s let out minds be intent on confronting our every thought with the infinite and immense love of God (Marisa Cerini, God Who is Love in the Experience and Thought of Chiara Lubich. Hyde Park, New York: New City Press, 1992, 15-16).

God is love. This is the “name of the one who is” (Pope John Paul II). Think about this for a moment – the name of the God who is, the one who is the holy creator and redeemer, is Love. A modern theologian, grasping for expressing this truth, concludes:

God, whose essence is life and love . . .  for this reason can be the God of human beings and the God of history. . . . that love is the ultimate purpose of every reality. This Christian conception of reality is so revolutionary in interpreting what is real, that it is difficult to imagine something greater (cited by Marisa Cerini in God Who Is Love in the Experience and Thought of Chaira Lubich, 18, translated into English from a 1974 article by a European theologian published in a German theological quarterly).

Posted in Biblical Theology, Discipleship, God's Character, Love, Personal, Spirituality | 1 Comment/Like

S. Truett Cathy: RIP – What Can the Church Learn from the Same-Sex Debate?

Unknown-3Last Thursday I noted the passing of the controversial Irish Presbyterian minister, Rev. Ian Paisley. In the same Sunday newspaper (September 14) there was also mention of the passing, at the age of 93, of S. Truett Cathy. Cathy, as many will know by the mention of his name, is the founder and billionaire who built the famous restaurant chain, Chick-fil-A. The chain is known for many reasons, one of which is that it is closed on Sunday. The other, at least in the images and thoughts of millions who view the popular culture, is the amazingly funny commercials that are aired on television with cows telling us why we should “Eat More Chikin.”

Cathy opened his first restaurant in an Atlanta suburb in 1946. His boneless chicken sandwich would propel the franchise to more than 1,800 outlets in 39 states. By 2013 the company said that its annual sales topped $5 billion. The company is family-owned thus it is the Cathy family who seem poised to continue to hold to the core values that their father promoted. Cathy’s personal fortune is said to have been in excess of $6 billion, putting him annually on the Forbes magazine list of the wealthiest Americans. The company listed him as chairman emeritus on its website since he had left day-to-day operations to the younger leaders in the family some years ago.

Unlike Ian Paisley, who I wrote about yesterday, S. Truett Cathy never publicly altered his stance on several “hot-button” issues. This was especially true with regard to the same-sex marriage debate which he actively spoke about. But what the press often failed to notice was how much the company had changed its tone and direction under the influence of his sons.

UnknownDan Cathy, the chief operating officer of the company, got involved in a much-ballyhooed controversy about same-sex marriage in 2012. This controversy, which spilled over into political contexts such as the Chicago City Council. Some members of the council sought to stop the chain from opening a restaurant in the city. Related stories about the company were still making news even last week in California.

The larger controversy about Chick-fil-A, and same-sex marriage debate in particular, has slowly died down. But the virtually uncovered story over the last few years was sadly missed by most outlets when a leading LGBT spokesman was invited to spend personal time with Dan Cathy in 2013. Thankfully, this story was reported by the Huffington Post. The video is well worth seeing.

I get the sense that the younger Cathy leaders are committed to approaching this controversial issue with a different approach even if their views (morally and politically) remain the same as those of their father. To some extent this shift is similar to the wide-scale generational movement that we are seeing among many Christians who are growing weary of this being “the” political hot-button issue that creates the biggest hill to die on in the culture.

As I look at this hugely contentious issue among Christians I am reminded that for us, and for our churches, this issue really has three major components: (1) Political, (2) Pastoral, and (3) Missional.

Unknown-2I do believe there is a political side to this issue. This issue is not unimportant. But I am profoundly convinced that the Christian Right has lost this battle politically. What concerns me is whether or not conservative Christians can move on to the two much more important issue, namely the pastoral and missional. Can we learn how to love and care for people of same-sex orientation and practice? And, even more importantly, can we learn how to live in a radically changing culture as God’s people who love the world and also live in it missionally? The global figure who most represents the way forward for the church is none other than Pope Francis. He is calling us to the second and third response in a powerful and pastoral way. I wonder who is listening. The Catholic Church will not embrace marriage between same-sex partners as sacrament for very compelling and deeply Christian reasons. But the pope is seeking to show us a far better way to engage with a world that starves to hear good news, not ecclesial judgment.

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Culture, Current Affairs, Evangelism, Gospel/Good News, Love, Marriage & Family, Missional Church, Personal, Politics, Roman Catholicism, Sacraments, The Future | 15 Comments/Likes