December 2018 / January 2019 - Vol. 101

Archbishop Justin Welby and Pope Francis
Walking Together in the Spirit
70th Anniversary of the World Council of Churches
Ecumenical Prayer Service in Geneva on
June 21 2018

.Reflection given by Pope Francis

"Walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh...
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit."
                                 - Galatians 5:16, 24-25

Dear brothers and sisters, today more than ever the words of the Apostle Paul challenge us. Walking in the Spirit means rejecting worldliness. It means opting for a mindset of service and growing in forgiveness. It means playing our part in history but in God's good time, not letting ourselves be caught up in the whirlwind of corruption but advancing calmly on the way whose signpost is the "one commandment: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself"' (v. 14). The path of the Spirit is marked by the milestones that Paul sets forth: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (v. 22).

We are called, together, to walk along this path. This calls for constant conversion and the renewal of our way of thinking, so that it can conform to that of the Holy Spirit. In the course of history, divisions between Christians have often arisen because at their root, in the life of communities, a worldly mindset has seeped in. First, self-concern took priority over concern for Christ. Once this happened, the Enemy of God and man had no difficulty in separating us, because the direction we were taking was that of the flesh, not of the Spirit. Even some past attempts to end those divisions failed miserably because they were chiefly inspired by a worldly way of thinking. Yet the ecumenical movement, to which the World Council of Churches has made so great a contribution, came about as a grace of the Holy Spirit (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 1). Ecumenism made us set out in accordance with Christ's will, and it will be able to progress if, following the lead of the Spirit, it constantly refuses to withdraw into itself.

It might be objected that to walk in this way is to operate at a loss, since it does not adequately protect the interests of individual communities, often closely linked to ethnic identity or split along party lines, whether "conservative" or  progressive". To choose to belong to Jesus before belonging to Apollos or Cephas (cf. 1 Cor 1:12); to belong to Christ before being "Jew or Greek" (cf. Gal 3:28); to belong to the Lord before identifying with right or left; to choose, in the name of the Gospel, our brother or our sister over ourselves... In the eyes of the world, this often means operating at a loss. Ecumenism is "a great enterprise operating at a loss"  But the loss is evangelical, reflecting the words of Jesus: "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it" (Lk 9:24). To save only what is ours is to walk according to the flesh; to lose everything in the footsteps of Jesus is to walk in the Spirit. Only in this way does the Lord's vineyard bear fruit. As Jesus himself teaches, those who store up riches for themselves bear no fruit in the Lord's vineyard, only those who, by serving others, imitate the "mindset" of God, who never stops giving, even to the gift of his very self (cf. Mt 21:33-42). Such is the mindset of Easter, which alone truly bears fruit.

Looking at our own journey, we can see a reflection of ourselves in some of the experiences of the early communities of Galatia. How difficult it is to overcome hard feelings and to foster communion! How hard it is to leave behind centuries-old disagreements and mutual recriminations! It is even more formidable to withstand the subtle temptation to join others, to walk together, but for the sake of satisfying some partisan interest. This is not the "mindset" of the Apostle, but that of Judas, who walked with Jesus but for his own purposes. There is only one way to shore up our wavering footsteps: to walk in the Spirit, purifying our hearts of evil, choosing with holy tenacity the way of the Gospel and rejecting the shortcuts offered by this world.

After so many years of ecumenical commitment, on this seventieth anniversary of the World Council, let us ask the Spirit to strengthen our steps. All too easily we halt before our continuing differences; all too often we are blocked from the outset by a certain weariness and lack of enthusiasm. Our differences must not be excuses. Even now we can walk in the Spirit: we can pray, evangelize and serve together. This is possible and it is pleasing to God! Walking, praying and working together: this is the great path that we are called to follow.

And this path has a clear aim, that of unity. The opposite path, that of division, leads to conflict and breakup. The Lord bids us set out ever anew on the path of communion that leads to peace. Our lack of unity is in fact "openly contrary to the will of Christ, but is also a scandal to the world and harms the most holy of causes: the preaching of the Gospel to every creature" (Unitatis Redintegratio, 1). The Lord asks us for unity; our world, torn by all too many divisions that affect the most vulnerable, begs for unity.

Dear brothers and sisters, I have desired to come here, a pilgrim in quest of unity and peace. I thank God because here I have found you, brothers and sisters already making this same journey. For us as Christians, walking together is not a ploy to strengthen our own positions, but an act of obedience to the Lord and love for our world. Let us ask the Father to help us walk together all the more resolutely in the ways of the Spirit. May the Cross guide our steps, because there, in Jesus, the walls of separation have already been torn down and all enmity overcome (cf. Eph 2:14). In him, we will come to see that, for all our failings, nothing will ever separate us from his love (cf. Rom 8:35-39).
[ source: full text]

Archbishop Justin Welby at World
                                  Council of Churches Centre

'Ecumenical Spring': Archbishop Justin Welby's speech at World Council of Churches Center in Geneva for 70th Anniversary, February 2018

One of the great gifts of the ecumenical movement is that it has allowed Christians from different denominations, who might once have kept separate from one another, to get to know one another. There were times before, say, the 1960s, when people of one denomination might never have entered the church building of another. Indeed many may have feared to go in either for fear of either being turfed out or, worse, contaminated by the place itself. Then something changed. Christians found common cause in all sorts of forums – political life; spirituality and prayer; community service; education; children’s work...

In the early days of his pontificate, which started two days before I took up my present office, Pope Francis made several public statements in which he used the metaphor of the sheep, the shepherd and the sheepfold. I had cause to look at these statements again last year when I was invited to write a reflection on them for a collection of reflections on the words of Pope Francis.

The most famous of these statements was when he exhorted the clergy, the pastors, to have the ‘smell of the sheep’, so close were they to their people, the flock. But in other statements he spoke of the sheepfold as being like the Church. His interesting take on this is that as well as the traditional understanding of the absolute need to go out and seek the lost to bring them back into the safety of the sheepfold, he saw that it was possible for the sheepfold to be as a frontier, a barrier – not only keeping out the wolves but also other sheep.

The state of the Church today is such that in many places – particularly in Europe – we can see ninety-nine outside the fold and only one inside. It’s almost true in England: 1.7 percent of the population attend the Church of England.

The task is great. It is appropriate, right and imperative that the churches work together to seek out the lost wherever they may be. To find that when we bring them into the safety of the fold should be one fold, not many – and that the flock is one flock, with one shepherd, the Good Shepherd himself, who prays that we may be one.

top photo above: Archbishop Justin Welby and Pope Francis meet at the Vatican
bottom photo: Archbishop Welby and WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit - February 2018
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