In the U.S., October 31 is most known as Halloween, but in many other places around the world it is known as Reformation Day, since on that date in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
In recent decades the weeks around Reformation Day have often been times of ecumenical contact amongst Christians, especially between Catholics and Lutherans. Back in 1999 on Reformation Day the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation issued a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, in which both denominations affirmed that we believe that we are saved by faith in Christ — that we don’t earn our Salvation, but that it is a gift God gives us. As Jesus said several times in the Gospels, “Your faith has saved you.” The Catholic and Lutheran leadership also affirmed that faith has to be put into action. If our faith is not reflected at all in our actions, it is not really faith.
This past Monday Pope Francis addressed a group of ecumenical pilgrims which had come to the Vatican. He told them, “It is with joy that I greet all of you who have made the pilgrimage to Rome under the motto ‘Better all together,’ ‘Besser alle zusammen.’ Some of you were already with us five years ago on the ecumenical pilgrimage ‘with Luther to the Pope,’ ‘Mit Luther zum Papst,’ but today a number of new faces have joined us.”
The Holy Father thanked “from the bottom of my heart” Lutheran Bishop Freidrich Kramer who accompanied the group and noted that they had serenaded him “with a joint song. Singing connects. In the choir no one stands alone: it is important to listen to the others. I would like the Church to be ready to listen. We are in the process of learning this as part of the synodal process.” In saying this, the pope was reminding Catholic participants of the process we had begun earlier this month.
He continued, “Listen also to the melody of God in your life; the melody that the Lord has composed in your life. Do not only open your ears, open your hearts. If you sing with an open heart, you are already touching, perhaps without realizing it, the mystery of God. This mystery is love, the love that in Jesus Christ finds its splendid, full and unique sound. Always remain attentive to God’s melody in your life. Then many voices will join to form one song. This is also where ecumenism happens, in Germany and in many other parts of the world.”
Back in 2016, when the “with Luther to the Pope” group came to Rome, Pope Francis addressed them on October 13. “I am very happy to meet you on the occasion of your ecumenical pilgrimage which began in the land of Luther, Germany, and ended here at the See of the Bishop of Rome. I extend a cordial greeting to the bishops who have accompanied you, and I thank you for supporting this wonderful initiative.
“We give thanks to God because today we, Lutherans and Catholics, are walking on the road that leads from conflict to communion. We have already journeyed together on an important part of the path. Along the way we experience mixed feelings: grief in the division that still exists between us, but also joy in the fraternity already found. Your enthusiastic presence in such great numbers is a clear sign of this fraternity, and we are filled with hope that it will continue to increase mutual understanding.
“The Apostle Paul tells us that, by virtue of our Baptism, we all form the one Body of Christ. The different members, in fact, form one body. This is why we belong to each other and when one suffers, everyone suffers, when one rejoices, all rejoice (cf. 1 Cor 12:12, 26). Let us continue with confidence on our ecumenical journey, because we know that, beyond the many open questions that still separate us, we are already united. What unites us is much more than what divides us!”
The pope then spoke about the trip he made in late October 2016 to Lund, Sweden. There he met with the Lutheran World Federation, to “commemorate, after five centuries, the beginning of Luther’s reformation, and thank the Lord for 50 years of official dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics.” He noted that “an essential part of this commemoration” was to “direct our gaze towards the future, with a view to a common Christian witness in the world today, which so thirsts for God and His mercy. The witness that the world expects from us is mainly that of making visible the mercy that God has for us, through service to the poor, the sick, those who have left their homeland in order to seek a better future for themselves and for loved ones. In being at the service to those most in need, we have the experience of already being united: it is the mercy of God that unites us.”
The bishops of the United States, in a video (https://youtu.be/znyEsvbrM8k) hosted by Bishop Robert Barron, present a similar message to what Pope Francis said in 2016 — that our witness to Christ through acts of charity, especially those done as a community, are what can speak to the souls of modern men and women who don’t think that they need religion, especially our religion. It is worth your while to watch this video and pray about what it says.
Again, back in 2016, Pope Francis then addressed the young members of the pilgrimage. “I encourage you to be witnesses of mercy. While theologians carry on the dialogue in the doctrinal field, keep looking persistently for opportunities to encounter one another, to know each other better, to pray together and offer help to each other and to all those who are in need. Thus, free from prejudice and trusting only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaiming peace and reconciliation, you will be the true protagonists of a new season of this journey which, with God’s help, will lead to full communion. I assure you of my prayers — and you, please pray for me, for I need your prayers so much. Thank you!”
As we pass through Reformation Day this weekend, let us pray for our fellow Christians and ask the Holy Spirit how we can better work for unity, so that our witness to Christ might speak more to the hearts of all.