Thursday, January 29, 2015

Romero and the ecumenical future


At the culmination of the week of prayers for Christian unity, Pope Francis said, “In this moment of prayer for unity, I would also like to remember our martyrs.” Francis recalled that Christians from various denominations are killed by persecutors who do not ask which church they belong to.  This, brothers and sisters, is the ecumenism of blood.”
In the year 2000, the Jubilee Year Ecumenical Commission pointed out that Archbishop Óscar A. Romero of El Salvador has been “recognized beyond confessional boundaries” as being among the “martyrs and exemplary confessors of faith, hope and charity,” who could help promote Christian unity.  Romero, whose martyrdom was recognized by a panel of Vatican theologians earlier this month, had already been added to the Anglican liturgical calendar and is one of the 20th century martyrs depicted in the statuary of Westminster Abbey.
At the end of last year, Lord Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion delivered an address entitled “A saint for the whole people of God: Óscar Romero and the ecumenical future.”  In his address, Lord Williams called Romero “one of the great gifts of God to the whole people of God in the last few decades; one whose witness and teaching is a legacy for Christians everywhere.”  He posited that Romero contributed to Christian unity not only through his martyrdom, but also through his commitment to the poor.  Here is an excerpt.
Where is God? God is with the most vulnerable. That ought to be an axiom for every Christian reading her or his Bible. And that, of course, means that the unity of the Church, if it’s true unity with Jesus Christ, is bound up with the Church being where Christ is. For Romero, the unity of the Church is bound up with being united with Christ through solidarity with the poor. The calling of the believer is to be where Christ is, and like Christ to give voice to the cry of the suffering and dispossessed. Speaking with and for Christ, speaking from the place of Christ, is speaking from the place of the dispossessed and the marginal ...
[Romero] poses a deeply troubling and challenging question about ecumenism: can we see our vision of unity afresh in the context of being united with Christ as he understands it?  Do we seek not just the unity of the churches, some kind of fusion of various kinds of institutional life, or unity with Christ?  The ecumenical vision feels and sounds remarkably different if we begin by saying that what we pray for and hope for is to be united with Jesus Christ.  And through that, and in that, to be united with one another.  And to be united with Christ in Christ's proclamation of good news for the poor ...

None of this is meant to suggest that we simply dismantle all our interests and concerns in doctrine, and sacrament, and discipline, and simply go and look for good causes to support together. For, you see, none of this would make any sense whatsoever, unless our doctrinal and sacramental commitments were what they are. The Christ who is there with and in the poor is not just an impressive human teacher, but the incarnate Son of God, the Lord Almighty, clothing himself in our poverty, so that we may be clothed with his divine richness. Unless we believe that, none of this business about being united with him in the poor would make any sense whatever ...

So, the ecumenical future in the light of Archbishop Romero’s life and death, his prayer and witness, becomes a  future in which all of our Christian communities engage more deeply together in challenging the various  ideologies that their own church life, and their own social life, will throw up. It becomes a future in which we  seek to help one another further towards unity with Jesus Christ in the prayerful confidence that it is in that  moment that we begin the journey towards one another. Archbishop Romero believed very deeply, as we have  seen, that there is only one Church; a Church of those who are truly where Christ is, who truly speak with his  voice into and out of that situation. And when we’re inclined to be anxious or cynical, despairing even, about whether the churches can ever be one, it does help not a little to remember that Christ is already and eternally  one, that his body is one, that his good news is one, and that we are stumblingly making our way towards that  which is already real in him.

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