The Jan. 29 ecumenical event at the Chiara Center in Springfield — a Lutheran-Catholic event intended to begin a series of commemorations of the beginnings, in 1517, of what came to be called the Protestant Reformation — was very well attended, giving evidence that there is great interest locally in addressing the mandate, implicit in the fact that there is one Lord Jesus Christ, that Christians seek the unity which Jesus intends for his people. A planning meeting for further events will be held Thursday, March 2, 7 to 8:30 p.m., at Grace Lutheran Church in downtown Springfield.
Back in November, I let you know that there was some planning going on among Catholics and Lutherans in the Springfield area to commemorate the beginnings of the activity, five hundred years ago in Europe, which led to what is today called “the Protestant Reformation.”
Pope Francis visited Sweden this past Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. He met with Lutheran leaders at a time in which all Christians must be attentive to the sad reality of division among Christians and eager to encourage the unity which Jesus intends.
On Oct. 31, 1517, the Augustinian monk and Scripture professor Martin Luther, of Wittenburg, Germany, sent 95 “theses” or debate topics to the Archbishop of Mainz. He may also have nailed a copy of these theses to a church door. There is no evidence that any debates on these topics actually took place. The date Oct. 31, 1517, is considered the beginning of what is now called the Protestant Reformation, which led to great brokenness within Western Christianity, as many felt compelled to leave the Catholic Church.
September is already in the rear-view mirror; still, I wish to reflect on an event, announced in this column, which occurred in Springfield on Aug. 25. A large crowd gathered at Westminster Presbyterian Church to hear Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of New Testament at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, speak about our need to understand better the intertwined yet distinct traditions of Judaism and Christianity.
Numerous people around our diocese are reading Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012). We are doing so upon the recommendation of Father Chuck Edwards, who is leading diocesan efforts in stewardship and discipleship.
After his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples: “Go … and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28: 19). The term disciple — learner — is to be preferred to any other description of a Christian. We are not passive recipients of our church’s pastoral care. We are active in our openness to being changed and formed by our union with God and, in particular, by our friendship with God the Son, Jesus, true God and true human, the Word upon which all disciples depend for salvation, identity, and peace.
It was my good fortune, at the end of June, to enjoy a performance by a group which has been in operation for 44 years in our area, but of which until then I had never heard. Encounter, with its headquarters at Main Street United Methodist Church in Alton, presented the musical The Story, a quick overview of salvation history from the time of Abraham and Sarah to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
At times, as you read this column, which focuses upon our relationships with people of every religion and no religion, it may seem as if these relationships are “easy.” All we need to do, it seems, is strike up a conversation and discover all the things we have in common with different groups of people, and life is sunny and friendly.
As I’m writing this column, on the evening of Easter Sunday, reports are coming in of a suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan. Those claiming responsibility for the bombing have confirmed their timing it to coincide with the most important solemnity of the Christian year.
It was a pleasure to participate, on Saturday, Feb. 13, in some of the education and formation of our diocesan permanent-diaconate class of 2020. This class consists of seven men from around the diocese. The wives of several of them were also present as we took a day, at Villa Maria on Lake Springfield, to survey the challenges of ecumenical and interreligious activity within our diocese.
I have received some comments about my allusion, in the January column, to my personal conversion to Jesus. It seems to me that it is necessary to develop this theme further. The development of the "discipleship and stewardship" way of life certainly demands that we be able to articulate our personal faith.