Homily of the Most Reverend Oscar A. Solis, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, for the Ecumenical Prayer Service recognizing the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, 8 October 2017, given at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Salt Lake City
Good afternoon! I extend my heartfelt greetings of Christ’s peace and love to all my fellow brother and sister ministers in our interfaith group here in Salt Lake City and to members of different congregations who are with us here today. What a great feeling of joy and inspiration to see our unity and solidarity as one God’s family, especially as we gather in prayer to give praise to our loving God and to invoke His blessings for all of us and for the world.
I humbly stand before you representing the Diocese of Salt Lake City and the members of the Catholic Church throughout the world. I thank Bishop Gonia for his kind invitation to be a part of this ecumenical Common Prayer in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, much more for the honor to co-preside and give the homily together with him. (I guess the seating is quite different – it’s according to age, not grace.) Today is a special blessing from our loving and caring God! This is a sacred moment and a wonderful cause for thanksgiving for all of us, irrespective of our religious designations and affiliations.
We are living in a factious world. Our society is currently experiencing the shocking polarization in various forms and ways that fragment our world, families, nations, politics, businesses, and even sports. This is an alarming situation because of the extensive consequences it brings: war, hatred, racism, senseless violence, and worse, it causes suffering and the death of so many innocent lives. As leaders of our faith communities and believers in God, this poses a serious challenge to our common mission as ambassadors of His love and deeds, and to be the visible witnesses of peace and unity in our divided world.
Hence, our gathering is a source of hope. It offers and serves our world as an antidote against the ailment of hatred, bigotry and the fragmentation of our world, society, community and even our family. What a great testimony of our capacity and the ability to be brokers of peace and unity when we transcend the boundaries of our faith affiliations and be one in prayer to humbly seek God’s favor and to thank Him for His enduring presence and love inside us, that He is with us and among us.
Our ecumenical prayer service is in noble pursuit of the Christian unity that our faith communities have been working toward, closely together, for several centuries now. We are treading on a continuous journey towards that desired dream of fulfilling the divine will that we all aspire to. This, as well as similar events in many other parts of the world, echoes the tremendous collaborative efforts that were initiated by Pope Francis and the leaders of the World Lutheran Federation in the interfaith prayer service recently held in Switzerland. The intention was to commemorate this historic event in order to carry on the daunting task of bridging the differences that have separated us for five centuries and to move forward on the path of reconciliation, as we head from conflict to communion.
Amid all sorts of divisiveness, especially the one that has separated our churches for centuries, thank God we have the Word in the Scriptures. In the letter of St. Paul to the Christians in Corinth, he exhorted them: “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” to be in agreement, so that divisions will not reign among them, but rather a perfect union of mind and purpose (1Cor 1:10). Furthermore, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism of the Catholic Church, appealing to the text of Saint Paul, significantly states: “Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only.”
My dear friends, several ongoing significant efforts to forge our communion have been going on. In spite of the sad separation among Christians that wounds the Body of Christ, the recent popes of our Catholic Church in the past five decades have carried on the daunting task towards reconciliation and unity. Pope John Paul II wrote about “the urgency of building good relationships between Christians aimed not merely at mutual knowledge, common prayer and dialog but every possible form of practical cooperation at all levels especially that of witnessing to the Gospel message. The cooperation among all Christians vividly expresses that bond which already unites us, and it sets in clearer picture God’s will and desire for us.” Pope John Paul II further said: “This cooperation based on our common faith is not only filled with fraternal communion, but is a manifestation of Christ himself. Moreover, ecumenical cooperation is a dynamic road to unity. Unity of action leads to the full unity of faith,” and in the eyes of the world, cooperation of all Christians becomes a form of common Christian witness and a means of evangelization to the world. This conviction must sustain and encourage us to persevere with humility and trust on the way to the restoration of full visible unity among all believers in Christ.
However, my dear friends, it’s easier said than done. The road to our communion cannot be the fruit of merely human strategies and human endeavors. Such union among brothers and sisters necessitates the grace of God and can only come from looking to the mind and heart of Christ our Savior (Phil 2:5). It is for this reason we gather here in prayer. We are gathered before God’s presence to help realize the value of our unity in faith in one God, Jesus Christ our Lord. Created as one God’s family, divisions among us His children and in our Church wounds the Body of Christ, and impairs our mission to be witness of communion in our world. Therefore, it is necessary to solidify our convictions that in Christ and with Christ we can never remain divided.
My dear friends, in time and history, God has been on our side. There is an ongoing and strong movement toward reconciliation with a renewed commitment to continue in that direction. Lutherans and Catholics today enjoy a growth in mutual understanding, cooperation, and respect. Our churches have come to acknowledge there are more commonalities that unite than divide us. Above all our differences, we share a common faith in the Triune God and the revelation in Jesus Christ, recognizing the basic truths that our justification and salvation only come from God.
We thank God for His grace and for the inspiration from the Holy Spirit that our churches remain faithful to and focused on our common mission to abate the climate of division in our midst and in fostering the needed unity and solidarity as a living example that the world needs to emulate and to imitate. After all, each of us is but a member of one Church Family, the Body of Christ, brothers and sisters equal in dignity and created in the image and likeness of God.
The continuous and close dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics through the years is an inspiring journey of harmony and communion in the midst of polarization in our society and in our world. Our conviction, our witness and commitment for mutual understanding, reconciliation and peace is the way of Christ and the common path in building a civilization of love. My dear friends, it is God’s blessing to us from heaven, and this will be our communities’ humble gift to a divided world.
So, together in fervent prayer, may we lift our hearts in complete surrender to God’s love, the source and the driving force of our unity. Let us double our prayers and efforts to break down the walls of division and instead continue to build a culture of love and bridges of love. May God’s favor be upon us in order to pursue our lofty dream and complete our reconciliation so that we can live as one Christian family as Jesus Christ prayed – “that they be one, as you Father and I are one.”
May God listen to our prayers and bless us with the grace of reconciliation, unity and peace!