Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for The Baptism of the Lord

Readings: Is 42:1-7; Acts 10:34-38; Matt 3:13-17

There is no doubt that the Second Vatican Council back in the 1960s was a significant turning point and advancement for Catholic teaching and life. So many things changed as a result of that grand council. For example, our whole understanding of the sacrament of Baptism, which really originated with the baptism of Jesus which we celebrate today, was immeasurably broadened from the recent past understandings. One of the most significant results flowing from that broadening was a changed relationship in the attitude of the Catholic Church towards other Christian churches. As many of you will remember, there had been nothing but feelings of antagonism between the Catholic Church and the churches which split from it in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Indeed, in the history of the United States there had been a great deal of hostility between Catholics and other Christians. It was one of the expressed concerns of Pope John XXIII to change that situation. The Council set about doing just that.

I’d like to read you one of the most relevant passages from the Council’s document on Ecumenism:

"For all those who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church—whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church—do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body(5) and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers and sisters by the members of the Catholic Church.(6)" (UR #3, 22)

There’s no doubt that the Church Fathers and especially Pope John XXIII wanted a new relationship to emerge between Catholics and members of other Christian churches, a relationship of mutual appreciation and cooperation. By and large a lot of that has occurred in the last forty plus years. Still it takes a long time for a four hundred year old attitude to completely change, and we are still "in the process" with a lot of work remaining. Through it all one point that we must continually go back to and remind ourselves is that we have all been justified by faith and Baptism into Christ’s body. We still need a lot of prayer and effort in this area, and it’s an important one.

To help change that new attitude into reality, the Church subsequently made some major changes in the area of sacramental sharing with members of other Christian communities. Those were published in the Church’s Ecumenical Directory (1993). Here’s one directive that very few Catholics in the pew know about (or even a lot of priests):

"In certain circumstances access to these sacraments (Eucharist, reconciliation and anointing) may be permitted or even recommended for Christians of other Churches and ecclesial communities.(#129 - 1993)."

Some of those pre-eminent circumstances are explicitly ecumenical gatherings. You have a number of those here at Our Lady of Grace in your Oblate program, in the Women Touched by Grace programs, as well as many others. These are all opportunities where we can profess the common baptism in Christ which joins us together. That’s one of the things we celebrate this feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

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