October 26, 2014, was a day that dawned with profound joy in my soul. I shall never forget it as long as I live. It began with personal morning prayer in a guest home in Montreal. I was in this great city to do my first Gospel Call mission with Fr. Thomas Ryan, CSP. Tom directs the ministry of ecumenism for the Paulists and works out of their Washington, D.C. office. He invited me in 2013 to join him as his fellow team member/missioner for a four-day event that we hope to do at least three times per year in various parts of North America. Tom did his first Gospel Call mission almost twenty-five years ago in Canada. He has had three Protestant partners before me. I will share more about the mission this week but today I’d like to tell you my story of this unforgettable day, October 26.
After breakfast I went to St. Luke Catholic Church in Montreal. In the first Mass of the Lord’s Day I was invited to give the homily. The lectionary text was Matthew 22:34-40. I preached on the Great Commandment. I spoke with a free spirit and deep joy in the gospel. I was not hindered or directed by pressures in any way. I spoke of God’s love, how much he loves and saves us by his grace and how he calls us to love with the very love that he gives to us in Christ alone. I plainly sensed the Holy Spirit’s power and grace upon me and the Word of Christ as I preached. Conversations that evening gave me ample evidence that God used that sermon to touch lives in deep ways. I must say, very simply, this opportunity to preach astounded me. It is quite rare for a Protestant to preach at a Mass. I do not know the precise procedure for such an invitation being extended but I am sure the parish priest and bishop must have been on the same page if not formally in agreement.
On the Saturday evening, before this memorable morning, I met the archbishop of Montreal, the Most Reverend Christian Lepine. Archbishop Lepine sat next to me in the worship service and we chatted briefly. He gave greetings at our opening Gospel Call event. The evening event was hosted by St. Luke’s parish and led by Deacon Brian Cordeiro. Archbishop Lepine was appointed to his office on March 20, 2012, by Pope Benedict XVI.
I wore my clerical collar at the Mass, with a simple dark and no vestments. (It was interesting that so many members called me “Father” out of respect!) Right after the service I changed in the sacristy to a dress shirt and tie and then went several blocks down the street to the First Christian Reformed Church of Montreal. (This is the only CRC congregation in the entire province of Quebec.) I preached a Reformation Day sermon from Romans 1:16-17. Pastor Jacob Boer and I had never met until that morning but we had exchanged emails. I really wondered what kind of CRC congregation, and what type of pastor, would welcome me. What should I expect? I really had little idea. To my great joy I was again received with love and encouragement. I spoke about the 16th century Protestant Reformation and the power of this one text in Luther’s life. I explained how and why it transformed him. I also reminded the congregation of our apostolic call to unity and of just how much had happened for wide-scale reformation since the early 1500s. The message seemed to work. People were again most receptive and gracious. I loved the worship and the contrast between the two parishes was striking. Yet there was also no radical disjunction between them. We confessed the Creed, read the Word of God, heard the Gospel, prayed as the gathered baptized people, and came to the eucharist. (No, I did not receive the eucharist at St. Luke’s since it is not appropriate to do so except in unusual circumstances. This is not the place to explore this issue.)
So, why was this Sunday, October 26, so deeply memorable to me?
The mission that I now lead (ACT3 Network) began in 1991. In 1992 I launched it as a full-time work and became the president. In 1996 we held our first Reformation Annual Conference and drew nearly 1,000 people to Chicago. At the time this event was happening I was already being led by the Spirit to embrace my vision of missional-ecumenism, mostly in private because of deep fear. By 1998 I announced that we would have an event in 1999 with the theme: “One Holy Catholic Church.” Our numbers plunged, as I had expected, to about 350. The writing was on the wall. My deeply conservative Reformation crowd did not want to hear a conference on unity even though the speakers were of high calibre: e.g. Timothy George, J. I. Packer, etc. By 2000 the direction of this ministry had shifted and the decade-plus that followed 2000 was one of decline and struggle. Only by God’s grace and provision did we get through those very hard years. We were often financially ruined. Many openly attacked my “new” stance. But in 2012 the tide shifted openly. I was now being invited into this “new” world (at least for me) and was now pursuing my vision with clarity and the obvious evidence of the Spirit’s power resting again on the mission and my own soul.
There are so many people, dear friends most all of them, who stood by me and believed in me and supported this vision. Some did not get the vision but loved me anyway. For this I remain grateful as well. What I could never have imagined, even as recently as a year ago, was preaching a Reformation sermon on Reformation Sunday in a Reformed Church and also preaching a Gospel text in a Catholic Church the same Sunday – Reformation Sunday 2014.
I later told Fr. Bertrand Montpetit (on Tuesday evening at our final meeting for the Gospel Call), that he had honored me beyond anything that he could have ever imagined by entrusting this homily assignment to me as his guest. In so doing the Spirit had used his invitation to fulfill a dream that God had given to me back in 1998. I realized then that I would preach where I could never imagine that I would go and when I did I would know this to be true: “You, Lord God did it all!” This is why October 26 was one of the most memorable days in my life. On Reformation Sunday, 2014, I preached in a Catholic Church and also in a congregation directly and confessionally linked to the Protestant Reformation. God alone did this. I completely enjoyed it. I wonder what comes next? Please pray for me friends.
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Dr. Armstrong, it does sound like you had an opportunity to share a beautiful and important message about unity. Thanks be to God for your faith and witness!
I am sorry to inform you, though, that not even a bishop has authority to allow a lay person, Catholic or otherwise, to preach the homily at Mass:
See also, Ecclesiae de mysterio, Article 3:
We can assume, of course, the priest acted in ignorance of those regulations. In mentioning this, I don’t mean to criticize you or Fr. Ryan, but I thought you should be aware of the Church’s unambiguous rules concerning who may give homilies.
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Dear John, now that is encouraging! not so long ago, maybe 50 years ago, we heard that RC’s in S America were forbidden to read the Bible. The world is changing! Clair
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Thanks be to God!
The Most Memorable Reformation Sunday in My Life @JohnA1949 http://t.co/UfUq2HIJ9O
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Michael, you are, according to everything I know and am told by bishops, simply not right. I not only have my own experience of this but have received adequate reasons for why it happened. I think the idea that I am a layman” misses a crucial point of HOW unity has proceeded since Vatican II. I leave the debate to the side, however, since I did preach and with God;s help will do so again. It has happened and no doubt will. God is opening doors no one shuts and Pope Francis is now leading this reformation by example and mercy. 🙂
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Thankfully the Holy Spirit blows where he will. So glad that you were the willing and obedient servant John.
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Wonderful, tender-spirited blog, John. Blessed to know you and praying for AcT 3!
@JohnA1949 What happens during Church ‘Services’ is NOT biblical. This is why=> http://t.co/rpNrEN8gnI #ChurchReformNow
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RT @JohnA1949: The Most Memorable Reformation Sunday in My Life: October 26, 2014, was a day that dawned with joy in … http://t.co/BbF8KO…
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Christian unity is the gospel imperative of our time. How I wish I could get even the Protestant churches of the community I live in to see this, and work together. Operating in isolation, all the churches are in decline. I believe it’s a judgment against lack of unity in the body of Christ. Such refusal to work together, or even converse with one another, is a denial of the gospel.
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For some reason I think this Rolheiser quote fits here, I could be wrong. “Anyone who reads the Gospels and misses Jesus’ repeated warnings about legalism, narrowness, and intolerance is reading selectively. Granted, Jesus does warn too about staying within the bounds of proper belief (monotheism and all that this implies) and proper morals (the commandments, love of our enemies, forgiveness), but he stresses too that we can miss the real demands of discipleship by not going far enough in letting ourselves be stretched by his teachings.
“True orthodoxy asks us to hold a great tension, between real boundaries beyond which you may not go and real borders and frontiers to which you must go. You may not go too far, but you must also go far enough. And this can be a lonely road. If you carry this tension faithfully, without giving in to either side, you will no doubt find yourself with few allies on either side, that is, too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals.”
Can you provide the citation for this Barry Bruce. I love it.
Ron Rolheiser Archives, I believe 2011
Also, he has some articles on ecumenism.
Thanks Barry Bruce. This is the stuff I needed. Good work friend.
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I’m behind on my blogs, John, but reading this just now brings me great joy! Thanks be to God!