Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, didn’t set out to break from the Church. Yet his expression of concerns about the selling of indulgences was the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation. Pope Francis has said, “The intention of Martin Luther 500 years ago was to renew the Church, not divide her.” This is a reminder to us that our Church needs to continually renew and reform itself with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Where human error and corruption exist, God persists.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus prays, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (17:20–21). We may read Jesus’ prayer as a call to ecumenism and collaboration with other Christians. While we have differences in belief and practice, what we share in common is far more significant.
The days of vilifying Martin Luther are long gone. The days of thinking Catholics are the only ones in Heaven are behind us. In March, as he greeted participants at a conference promoted by the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences and titled “Luther: 500 Years Later: A rereading of the Lutheran Reformation in its historic ecclesial context,” Pope Francis said, “Today, as Christians, all of us are called to put behind us all prejudice towards the faith that others profess with a different emphasis or language, to offer one another forgiveness for the sin committed by those who have gone before us, and together to implore from God the gift of reconciliation and unity.”
You likely have children of interfaith families in your classroom. Be sensitive to these families and careful about how you speak about people of other Christian faiths. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote: “In all of Christ’s disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and he prompts them to pursue this end. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about. She exhorts her children to purification and renewal so that the sign of Christ may shine more brightly over the face of the earth” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church [Lumen Gentium], 15).
Prayers for Christian Unity*
Merciful God, out of love, you made a covenant with your people.
Empower us to resist all forms of discrimination.
Let the gift of your loving covenant
fill us with joy and inspire us to greater unity.
Through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
now and forever. Amen.
Leader: Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself. We praise you for those whom you sent in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants call upon your name. May your Spirit awaken in every community a hunger and thirst for unity in you. Let us pray to the Lord…
Response: Lord, hear our prayer.
*Prayers from Resources for The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and throughout the year 2017 (vatican.va). See also usccb.org. Search: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
Image credit: Patrice THEBAULT/CIRIC