September 15, 2017

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Unity is at heart of efforts to transform Lutheran-Catholic relations

Fr. Rick GintherFrom conflict to communion. Words to live by in this year of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Words to live by from this day forward.

We witness conflict every day, all too often dramatically through sight and sound engulfing screens large and small. From Charlottesville to Myanmar to Syria, the world grapples with how to bring an end to such conflicts.

What if the churches were to lead the way by demonstrating the healing power of communion?

At 4 p.m. on Sept. 17, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Synod of Indiana and Kentucky, Bishop William Gafkjen, will speak about the Reformation in Lecture Hall 150 of the Evans Center at Marian University in Indianapolis. Archbishop Charles C. Thompson will be present to greet the bishop.

One of the focal texts Bishop Gafkjen will cite will be “From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.” This report is a work of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity. Let me briefly outline its content.

In its first chapter, the authors reflect on the character of previous commemorations (angry, condemnatory, and continuing to promote division rather than unity).

They then state that in this new ecumenical age, the character must change. They propose that any commemoration in this new age must reflect four elements: thanksgiving, repentance, common witness and commitment.

Chapter two outlines new perspectives on Martin Luther and the Reformation. It notes the deeper research on the Middle Ages and 20th-century Catholic research on Martin Luther. It points to the many dialogue sessions and ecumenical projects which have resulted in a richer, more complete picture of the historical moment and realities at the time of the Reformation.

Chapter three provides an historical sketch of the Lutheran Reformation and the Catholic response, sometimes called the Counter Reformation.

Chapter four outlines basic themes of Martin Luther’s theology “in light of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogues.” This section is most important to understand the benefits of dialogue and how it moves folks to common understanding—and then toward unity.

Chapter five states that baptism is the basis for unity and common commemoration. There follows a call for preparations. Those involved are to note their shared joy in the Gospel, reasons for regret and lament, evaluation of the past, and confession of sins against unity by both Catholics and Lutherans.

Chapter six is quite profound. It outlines five “ecumenical imperatives.” They are:

  • “Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity, and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.”
  • “Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.”
  • “Catholics and Lutherans should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal.”
  • “Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.”
  • “Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.”

The full text of the report can be found at It is an enlightening read.

Our world could use more such transformative words, leading to communion, unity, respect and common purpose.

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism. He is also pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis.)

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