(Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI says that ecumenism isn’t an exercise in negotiation, in which benefits and drawbacks are weighed in search of a consensus. “A self-made faith is worthless,” he says.
The Pope stated this today at an ecumenical celebration at the church of the former Augustinian Convent in Erfurt. The Holy Father visited the site, where Martin Luther lived for some years, on the second day of his four-day trip to Germany. He is in his homeland through Sunday.
He noted that prior to his visit, there was talk of “an ‘ecumenical gift’ which was expected from this visit.”
The Pontiff clarified that such talk “reflects a political misreading of faith and of ecumenism.”
He explained: “In general, when a Head of State visits a friendly country, contacts between the various parties take place beforehand to arrange one or more agreements between the two states: by weighing respective benefits and drawbacks a compromise is reached which in the end appears beneficial for both parties, so that a treaty can then be signed.
“But the faith of Christians does not rest on such a weighing of benefits and drawbacks. A self-made faith is worthless. Faith is not something we work out intellectually or negotiate between us. It is the foundation for our lives. Unity grows not by the weighing of benefits and drawbacks but only by entering ever more deeply into the faith in our thoughts and in our lives.”
Benedict XVI offered a reflection on Christ’s prayer for unity found in John 17.
“[Jesus] intercedes for coming generations of believers. He looks beyond the Upper Room, towards the future. He also prayed for us. And he prayed for our unity. This prayer of Jesus is not simply something from the past. He stands before the Father, for ever making intercession for us,” he said.
The Pope then asked the searching question: “Did Jesus’ prayer go unheard?”
“The history of Christianity is in some sense the visible element of this drama in which Christ strives and suffers with us human beings,” he said. “Ever anew he must endure the rejection of unity, yet ever anew unity takes place with him and thus with the triune God.”
The Holy Father invited his listeners to see both these things: human sin and God’s triumphs.
“In an ecumenical gathering, we ought not only to regret our divisions and separations, but we should also give thanks to God for all the elements of unity which he has preserved for us and bestows on us ever anew,” the Pontiff proposed. “And this gratitude must be at the same time a resolve not to lose, at a time of temptations and perils, the unity thus bestowed.”
The Bishop of Rome also considered the question of if man needs God.
He suggested that in a first instance, it might appear that things can function without him. “But the more the world withdraws from God, the clearer it becomes that man, in his hubris of power, in his emptiness of heart and in his longing for satisfaction and happiness, increasingly loses his life.
“A thirst for the infinite is indelibly present in human beings. Man was created to have a relationship with God; we need him. Our primary ecumenical service at this hour must be to bear common witness to the presence of the living God and in this way to give the world the answer which it needs.”
The seriousness of faith in God is shown by a commitment to man, the Pope proposed.
“We live at a time of uncertainty about what it means to be human. Ethics are being replaced by a calculation of consequences. In the face of this, we as Christians must defend the inviolable dignity of human beings from conception to death — from issues of prenatal diagnosis to the question of euthanasia,” he stated.
“Faith in God must take concrete form in a common defense of man,” the Pope said, adding that this defense also includes love.
“God will judge us on how we respond to our neighbor,” he said, and this is true not only as individuals but also as communities.
“Today,” he said, “Christian love of neighbor also calls for commitment to justice throughout the world.”