On the 25th anniversary of Ut Unum Sint, Saint John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism, Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe called on New Zealand Catholics to work hard towards achieving Christian unity, saying this “is what Christ asks of us”.
In his homily on May 25, Bishop Lowe said we need to put a real effort into achieving unity as it is “a scandal that the body of Christ, the Church, is broken”.
“The fact is the body of Christ is broken and that should be a scandal for every believer,” he said.
He said, as early as the fourth and fifth centuries, there were already debates over what Christians believed in. These debates resulted in the different councils: Ephesus, Nicaea and Chalcedon.
Around the year 1000, the Church split into East and West, or the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Around the 1500s, the Reformation resulted in the further breaking up of the Church, when Martin Luther’s followers went off in one direction and the Catholic Church in another.
“For a long time, we’ve been hopping along on one foot,” Bishop Lowe said. “But more and more, as the ecumenical movement has started up, we’ve learned to speak together.”
He cited, as an example, how the followers of Martin Luther are well-versed in the Scriptures, while the Catholics gave more importance to the saints and the sacraments.
Bishop Lowe said, years ago, he spoke before a women’s interdenominational group Women’s Aglow when he was a priest in Timaru.
“I talked about how we each took different things from the tradition with us, but how we are hopping along on one foot because we haven’t taken the whole of the tradition with us,” he said. “And now as we get together, we have to share each other’s faith and learn to walk together on two feet. That’s always the challenge for us. We need to walk together on two feet.”
He said this will result in losing something of ourselves but also advancing in our faith.
At that meeting, he said, he spoke to the women about the Blessed Virgin Mary, a woman open to the Holy Spirit.
“Mary is at the heart of the ecumenical movement because she wants and prays for what her Son wants. And his prayer is that we be one, completely one, that the world will know it was the Father who sent him,” Bishop Lowe added.
In the week of Christian Unity, celebrated in New Zealand from May 25-31 this year, Bishop Lowe called on Christians to make a real effort at uniting the Church.
“The energy for working together towards Christian unity is waning. And I know for myself, this can be really hard,” he said.
“There are so many people who think I don’t actually need to do this. Actually, we can’t call ourselves Catholic . . . if we don’t work for Christian unity. This is what Pope John Paul II said 25 years ago,” he said.