Fasting and Feasting again

I love being Catholic. And for the most part I have not given up being Catholic in this time of preparing for my formal reception into the Anglican Church at Easter. In fact, I am surprised to learn how Catholic the Anglican expression of Christian discipleship can be. While there are certainly differences in emphasis and perspective, in governance and authority (otherwise we would not still be divided), the bonds of affection between Rome and Canterbury are indeed strong and deep (and they are growing stronger by the day — see today’s story in  The Tablet), especially in times of challenge and tension in either tradition. Just ask Jean Vanier.

Jean Vanier, a life-long Catholic and founder of the international movement of l’Arche communities, was a special guest at the Anglican Primates’ meeting in Canterbury last month. “The big thing is to trust oneself,” Vanier said when addressing those who were praying for the Primates’ meeting. “It’s about listening to the inner voice. Listening to something that’s inside each one of us, which is a compass to make us more human, and more in tune with things of God.”

“The Vatican Council says the dignity of the human being is the personal conscience, which is that secret sanctuary where God speaks with each of us, indicating what is just and true and helping us move away from the opposite.”

“We are in a world where people are not encouraged to listen to the inner voice – what do you think, what do you believe? – we are in a world where people are not encouraged to believe in themselves.” He added: “You are more precious than you dare believe.”

Reflecting on his decades-long experience of living in community with people with disabilities and without, Vanier said communities are “nourishing” because they involve living with people who are very different from ourselves. He said it is good to be surrounded by those who clash with us, because it helps us find “the place of nourishment” and “to discover little by little who am I.” (Vanier, Jan. 15, 2016)

Lent begins today. The traditional summons in these 40 days ahead calls us to step back and examine our lives, to reconnect with our inner voice in that secret sanctuary where God speaks intimately with us. Can we step back from all that dehumanizes us and others in order to step towards all that humanizes and brings wholeness to our world?

Trust Pope Francis to set us in the right spirit. If we’re going to fast from anything this Lent, Pope Francis suggests that even more than candy or alcohol, we fast from indifference towards others: “Indifference to our neighbour and to God represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”

Describing this phenomenon he calls the globalization of indifference, Pope Francis says that “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.” He continues that, “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.” (Ten Inspirational Lenten Lessons from Pope Francis, or Pope Francis’ Ten Tips for Lent)

lent-prayer-fasting-giving

As last year I would like to pair my fasting practices with feasting ones. Each year Lent invites us to discover that any depriving becomes richer when paired with a certain type of feasting. The first time I came across this coupling was when I read this Lenten Litany of Fasting and Feasting by William Arthur Ward. So below is this year’s version of my resolve in fasting and feasting. Once again I share it here as a way to encourage myself to truly live this fasting and feasting in the next 40 days leading up to Easter:

Fasting from worldly ambition,
while feasting on God’s faithfulness;
Fasting from indifference and callousness,
while feasting on trust and the blessing of diversity;
Fasting from shallow pleasures,
while feasting on spiritual riches;
Fasting from mundane distractions,
while feasting on meaning, depth and purpose;
Fasting from resentment and irritation,
while feasting on love and mercy;
Fasting from fear and distrust,
while feasting on generosity and hospitality;
Fasting from closed-mindedness,
while feasting on surrender and ongoing conversion;
Fasting from hardness of heart,
while feasting on generosity and joy;
Fasting from rigidity and rash judgment,
while feasting on affection and solidarity;
In my fasting and feasting, may God be praised …

How do you live the three Lenten invitations of fasting, praying and giving? Or if you do not observe Lent, how do you build into your lives seasons or disciplines of stepping back in order to re-align, re-calibrate and re-orient?

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I Wonder as I Wander

This past spring, in a meeting with the Anglican — Roman Catholic International Commission, Pope Francis pointed out that working toward the restoration of full unity between Christian traditions is not optional but is an urgent summons of Christ himself. This was not the first time Pope Francis made such comments. In the nearly three years of his pontificate the Holy Father has taken every possible opportunity to stress this summons.

I am immensely grateful for his words. My many years of ecumenical ministry have given me numerous friends in a wide variety of Christian traditions. But more importantly, these involvements and precious relationships have greatly expanded my understanding of church. I have come to realize that it is only together that we reflect the fullness of the Gospel message. It is only together that we can credibly proclaim Christ’s saving love and mercy in an increasingly skeptical world. In fact, the task of unity among churches is a question of sheer survival in some parts of the world — see this article. We become a stronger witness when we learn to bind as one the various aspects of the witness of Jesus perfected in our respective denominations. Cardinal Emeritus Walter Kasper referred to this notion in a recent article as follows:

There is no ecclesiological vacuum outside the Catholic Church. Since Jesus Christ also works in and through the other Churches – and these often give clearer expression to individual elements of being church than the Catholic Church – the complete realization of Catholicity is only possible in ecumenical exchange and reciprocal enrichment. Catholic and ecumenical are therefore not opposites but two sides of the same coin. (Mercy is the medicine to heal the wounds of the ChurchCardinal Walter Kasper   – The Tablet, November 12, 2015)

Back in 1952, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches met in Lund, Sweden. As the churches were searching together for the means of common witness, they asked each other earnestly whether they were doing all they could to manifest the oneness of the people of God: “Should not our Churches ask themselves whether they are showing sufficient eagerness to enter into conversation with other Churches, and whether they should not act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately?” The answer to this urgent question has become known as the Lund Principle. This means that Christians and churches should try to act  as much as possible ecumenically, in particular, to bear witness together to a common life in Christ.

Ecumenical involvement, therefore, is by no means limited to experts and scholars. In fact, much of the real ecumenical work occurs among ordinary people in the pews – the rubber-hitting-the-road type of stuff. Last year I was part of a Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue process. Seven Lutherans and seven Catholics (chosen from the pews) met on a regular basis to read and discuss together the new document entitled From Conflict to Communion, a text written by an international Lutheran–Catholic dialogue group in preparation for the year 2017, the year which marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The text bears witness to the good news that we are finally living in a season of reconciliation between our churches, a reconciliation which allows us now to tell the story of the  500 year old break-up together. Given the length of this separation and the centuries of mutual disregard, each tradition developed in isolation from and in contrast to the other. Fortunately, the time of such mutual distrust and condemnation is behind us and the time of recognizing our common faith in Jesus has been ushered in.

Thus was created From Conflict to Communion – the title aptly captures the reconciling movement and growing convergence  between churches. Our group participants would prepare  assigned reading at home; then we would gather to discuss and learn together by bringing questions and insights, as well as joys and sorrows about being Lutheran and being Catholic. The experience was electric; friendships were born, understanding grew through conversations which made dry words leap off their pages and take on flesh in real people’s lives.

This past spring another ecumenical milestone was reached in Saskatoon with the creation of a Common Statement of Faith. This text is the fruit of local dialogue meetings which took place over three years between 10 representatives from Evangelical Churches and 10 members of the Roman Catholic Church, both clergy and laity. Formal dialogues between mainline Christians and Evangelical Christians are not as old as some of the other dialogues, but they are a fresh expression of increasing numbers of Christian sisters and brothers desiring to come together in order to encounter Jesus Christ in one another’s faithful worship and witness.

And lo, as I am walking the “road to Canterbury” another delightful gift has recently been prepared for the people of God in the pews, this time from the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in Canada. A unique series of short videos featuring Anglican and Catholic presenters offer “small answers to big questions.” The series is entitled Did you Ever Wonder? and can be found here. Each 8-minute presentation is followed by a few discussion questions at the end of the video. The series is an ideal recipe for a delightful encounter with fellow Christians. I wonder as I wander … is it thanks to my expanded experience and understanding of church that my current transition to the Anglican Church does not feel like a “leaving”?

Some seasoned professional ecumenists have called this era a winter of sorts in ecumenical relations. But this brief sampling of recently produced resources, themselves the fruit of faithful discipleship in Christ, indicates anything but a winter. Clearly even in winter we walk together, and never more so than among ordinary people in the pews. So if you have been wondering about “those Christians in other churches,” be bold. Go knock on their door, attend their worship or invite them to yours. Then suggest that you meet for shared prayer and learning; delve into From Conflict to Communion (if nothing else, at least study the Five Ecumenical Imperatives in its last chapter), propose a joint prayerful study of the Common Statement of Faith, or enjoy some of the lovely online videos produced by the Anglican–Roman Catholic Dialogue. Other Christians belong inside our comfort zone instead of outside of it, even if their Gospel expressions challenge us. There is no more excuse not to know each other, no more excuse not to befriend each other. There is no more lack of resources and study materials, no more excuse not to see Christ in one another. Pope Francis himself says so: it is an urgent summons of Jesus Christ whom we all profess as Lord and Saviour.

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