Happy Halloween! Or better, Happy ALL Saints’ Day!!! It will be here soon. In addition to these annual holidays, we also have a special occurrence this week with the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. While I am not inclined to celebrate the Reformation, I am acutely aware of the need to recognize and observe this important historic milestone.
It was on October 31, 1517 that the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the University Church in Wittenberg. These were 95 points (or topics) for debate. This is the symbolic event for the beginning of the Protestant Reformation that tore apart Christendom, though the forces that lead up to this moment and the subsequent division had been churning for decades.
So how are we to react on this anniversary? First of all, we need to recognize that we have come a long, long way. The days of name calling, much less persecuting and killing each other, are long, long over. That is not what Our Lord Jesus wants, and never wanted. Any demeaning jokes or comments are completely out of place.
Since Vatican Council II we have moved forward together in many positive steps. The Joint Declaration on Justification was agreed to by the Roman Catholics and the Lutherans in 1999, after extensive dialogue. Subsequently, other religious bodies, such as the World Methodist Council (2006) and the World Communion of Reformed Churches (2017) have signed onto this agreement. This statement recognizes that all these churches now share "a common understanding of our justification by God's grace through faith in Christ." What was once a point of doctrinal disagreement has now been resolved, and no longer divides us.
There are issues on which we do not all yet agree, such as the Papacy, the understanding of ordination, the persistence of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, ordination of women, and others, but these are all being worked on. More importantly, we have learned to work together on many issues of common concern. I am proud, for example, that St. Austin parish is one of the founding communities of Micah 6, our ecumenical endeavor to serve those in our area in need, primarily through the Micah 6 Foodbank, the street youth drop in on Sundays, and in other ways. Our parish continues to support the work of Micah 6 through volunteers and financial support.
Jesus prayed that we all be one (Jn 17:20-23). Working to heal the wounds in the Body of Christ is not optional. We have to do this. Pope St. John XXIII called Vatican Council II in large part because he recognized that the scandal of the division of the followers of Christ is the single greatest obstacle to proclaiming the Gospel. Our division speaks louder than words.
So as we observe this important historical milestone of the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, let us re-commit ourselves by prayer and good works to heal the wounds in the Body of Christ, so that the Gospel may be more effectively proclaimed.