by Mons. Paolo Maria Hnilica S.J., Bishop of Rusado (Roman Catholic)
(As in the case of Fr. Vasile Axinia, at the last minute, due to illness, Bishop Hnilica was not allowed to travel to the Holy Land. His prepared talk was read out to the conference)
Finding myself here with you in Jerusalem, where in the fullness of time the Church was born, and the place to which (from an eschatological point of view) the itinerant Church moves and directs itself, I would like to offer a meditation or rather a prayer instead of a lecture. I would like to offer a heartbroken prayer for that one Church of Christ that was fulfilled by the Son, according to the Father’s plan from all eternity: I would like to take the example of the apostles gathered with the mother of Jesus, unanimous and persevering in prayer.
Yes, my brothers, I think that rather than losing oursleves in useless discussions about the diversity and possible compatability of so many churches of Christ which exist today, it would be more useful for ecuemenism, to plunge ourselves into the mind of the Holy Spirit. Let’s ask Him, with the simplicity of children, to know their manifest plan – or what may be still hidden from our understanding, how the Church should be, this Church that was conceived from all eternity. Conscious of the fact that we all want to belong to that one Church, and according to the only model put forward by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we want to reflect our actions and adapt our faith.
Already in the Old Testament, with the creation of man, the design for the one Church of Christ began to take shape and to be built,which would be revealed in the fullness of time. That fullness of time of which we are celebratring the bimillenium jubilee.
In Genesis 3,15 we read that God, after the sin of our forefathers, says to the serpent: “I will make you enemies of each other:you and the woman,Your offspring and her offspring.I will crush your head And you will strike its heel.”
The woman is the Church, the woman is Mary: her offspring is Christ who forms an indissoluble unity in their mystical body: the Church, which is all of us.
In fact in Isiah 7.14 we read: “Well then, the Lord himself will give you a sign: a young woman who is pregnant will have a son and will name him Immanuel”. And in Isaiah 11.1 speaking of Christ: “a shoot springs from the stock of Jesse ” and in the verses which follow Isaiah lists the quality of the seed which will sprout and the way in which it will behave saying.” On him the spirit of Yahweh rests, a spirit of wisdom and Insight, a spirit of counsel and power, a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh. (The fear of Yahweh is his breath) he does not judge by appearances, he gives no verdict on hearsay, but judges the wretched with integrity, and with equity gives a verdict to the poor of the land.”
All of this tells us that the greatness of God is in his kenosis (the renunciation of his divine nature in the Incarnation) to which Paul refers in Philippians 12, 6-8: “…You have in you the same feelings that were in Christ whose state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave. And became as men are: and being as all men are, he was humbler yet even to accepting death on a cross….”
The greatness of God is in lowering himself to be born of a woman, just like any other person. In becoming our blood relation Mary is raised high: she, the daughter of mankind, who since the ancient of times had been prepared by the Father and who had been enriched with every gift of grace. Even though she was one of us she became the mother of God, thus realising a more intimate collaboration with God’s plan for his new family which is the Church.
Isaiah in 11, 6-9 describes how relations between men and living creatures will change, how “the wisdom of the Lord will cover the land and the waters will cover the sea. ” For at that time “….The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid,calf and lion cub feed together, with a little boy to lead them….” And men “…they do no hurt, no harm on all my holy mountain…..”
There you have the prophecies and lyrics of Hosea, Isaiah and the Books of the Pentatude – to quote but a few – which speak about the God of Jesus Christ, who, with passion and jealousy, is intent on preparing his people to receive his only Son, when he is born of the virgin in the fullness of time: gradually entering into an ever tighter and involved alliance with his people.
He says to Noah in Genesis 9, 8-16 “See, I establish my Covenant with you and with your descendants after you. When the bow is in the clouds I shall see it and call to mind the lasting Covenant between God and every living creature of every kind that is found on the earth….” So it is revealed to us that God has always thought of the Church as his family for whom he gave himself, and with whom he wishes to share the same life of love as the Trinity.
And to Abraham, his friend and our father in the faith: Genesis 15.1-21 “Have no fear Abraham, I am your shield! Your reward will be very great!… Your heir shall be of your own flesh and blood… The Lord took him outside and said, ‘Look at the sky and try to count the stars: you will have as many descendants as that’… I am the Lord, who led you out of Ur in Babylonia, to give you this land as your own”… That day Yahweh made a Covenant with Abraham:’ To your descendants I give this land’… “
and then later (Genesis 17, 1-9) “I am the Almighty God. Obey me and always do what is right. I will make my covenant with you and give you many descendants… I make this covenant with you: I promise that you will be the ancestor of many nations.. Your name will no longer be Abram, but Abraham, because I am making you the ancestor of many nations. I will give you many descendants and some of them will be kings… I will keep my promise to you and to your descendants in future generations as an everlasting covenant. I will be your God and the God of your descendants..”
In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord speaks to the people through the mouth of Moses saying (Deut 5, 9-14) “…People of Israel, listen to all the laws that I am giving you today. Learn them and be sure that you obey them. I will also teach your sons and the sons of their sons. Remember the day when you appeared before the Lord your God on Mount Horeb, when the Lord said to me: Gather together my people and I will make them hear my word so that they learn to fear me as long as they live on the earth,and so that they teach their sons.. The Lord spoke to you from the fire; you heard the sound of his words but you didn’t see any form; there was only a voice. He announced his covenant with you, which he commanded you to obey, that is, the ten commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone…” (Dt 5 9-14)
Then on Sinai, the Lord had adressed Moses directly, saying,”… cut two tablets of stone like the first ones.. I will write my words on them..The Lord passed in front of him proclaiming; ‘ I the Lord, am a God full of compassion and pity, who is not easily angered and who shows great love and faithfulness. I keep my promise for thousands of generations and forgive evil and sin… I now make a covenant with the people of Israel. In their presence I will do great things.. Obey the laws that I am giving you today..”Exodus 34, 1-11
And then with sorrow the Lord reminds us of the vine that he has planted, which we read about in Isaiah 5, 1-17 “My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug the soil and cleared it of stones, and planted choice vines in it. In the middle he built a tower, he dug a press there too. …What could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done?… Yes, the vineyard of Yahweh Sabaoth is the House of Israel, and the men of Judah that chosen plant”
And then in Hosea we have his love for the unfaithful spouse, which represents the people of God who have turned to idols: Ho 2, 4-22 “That is why I am going to lure her and lead her out into the wilderness and speak to her heart,… When that day comes…it is the Lord who speaks she will call me: ‘My husband’ She will no longer call me ‘My Baal’… When that day comes I will make a treaty on her behalf.. I will make her my bride for ever… with integrity and justice, with tenderness and love, with faithfulness you will come to know the Lord”
And then we come to the New Testament in which the marvel of marvels is realised, the incarnation of Christ, the indissoluble convenant between God and mankind.
In the book of the Apocalypse we have the description of the heavenly Jerusalem, in which all the promises will be fulfilled Ap 21, 2-4 “I saw the holy city and the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband… He will make his home among them, they shall be his people and he will be their God, his name is God-with-them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes.. the world of the past has gone”
Then, in the letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians and to the Colossians there are abundant references to what the characteristics of the one family of God and the Church of Christ are and should be.
In Ephesians 1, 3-23 we read: “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.. Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence, determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ for his own kind purposes… He has let us know the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made in Christ from the beginning, to act upon when the times had run their course to the end: that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head of everything in the heavens and everything on earth… it is in him that we were claimed as God’s own… you have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit as promised, the pledge of our inheritance… May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you… He has put all things under his feet, and made him, as the ruler of everything, the head of the Church; which is his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole creation.”
And in Colossians 1,9-29 “we have always prayed for you, ever since we heard about you. We ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, with all the wisdom and the understanding that his Spirit gives. Then you will be able to live as the Lord wants and will always do what pleases him. Your lives will produce all kinds of good deeds, and you will grow in your knowledge of God. May you be strong with all the strength whch comes from his glorious power, so that you may be able to endure everything with patience. And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light.He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of his dear Son, by whom we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven. Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. He is the first-born Son, superior to all created things… all things were created through him and for him,.. Christ is the head of his body, the Church… Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son’s sacrificial death on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven… And now I am happy about my sufferings for you, for by means of my physical sufferings I am helping to complete what still remains of Christ’s sufferings on behalf of this body the church. And I have been made a servant of the church by God, who gave me this task to perform for your good. It is the task of fully proclaiming his message, which is the secret he hid through all past ages from all mankind but now has been revealed to his people… this is the Christ we proclaim, this is the wisdom in which we thoroughly train everyone and instruct everyone, to make them all perfect in Christ.” (but in the one Christ who is undivided.)
And in 1 Corinthians 12, 4-14 it says:”There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them. There are different ways of serving, but the same Lord is served. There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to everyone for their particular service. The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all… But it is the one and same Spirit who does all this: as he wishes, he gives a different gift to each person. Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one hody, even though it is made up of different parts. In the same way, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free, we have been baptized into the one body by the same Spirit, and we have all been given the one Spirit to drink. For the body itself is not made up of only one part, but of many parts…”
This calls us to consider: if the Church is the body of Christ and if the body is made up of different members, then eveyone is called to actively collaborate in the church, as a living member of his body. Maybe because of our theme of Ecumenism we should know that there are many diverse ways of expressing the same faith, but we whould remember that there is only one Holy Spirit and one body of Christ.
Let’s pose the question; to the four billion and more people who don’t know the word of God and know nothing about the gospel, wouldn’t we be able to give the greatest witness if we succeeded in achieving unity among ourselves?
Primacy of Peter
Having spoken about the church and the Word of God as presented in the old and new testaments I would now like to talk about the primacy of Peter in the one church of Christ with the help of Pope John Paul’s speech on the ecumenical dialogue, which was given on the feast of the Chair of Peter on 22 February this year.
From the moment that Christ gave life to his church, he wanted it to have a visible hierarchical structure, having Peter as the foundation, as head of the apostles – who in communion with them, the apostolic college, would feed the flock entrusted to him.
He wanted to model his church on a new commandment which is to serve others, as he showed on Maundy Thursday:John 13.12-15 “I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you.”
And he gives a model of authority in which power is exercised in serving, because as Luke reminds us – he who is greatest, must become the servant of everyone Luke 22, 24-26 “An argument broke out among the disciples as to which one of them should be thought of as the greatest. Jesus said to them. ‘The kings of the pagans have power over their people and the rulers claim the title ‘Friends of the People’. But this is not the way with you; rather the greatest one among you must be like the youngest, and the leader must be like the servant.”
Thus, he reminds his apostles that it is impossible to make his Church visible beyond the framework of these two fundamental criteria: authority in serving and mutual love which is ready for any sacrifice.
Christ wanted to endow the life and ministry of his pastors, with specific recognisable signs before the world, which would express so many teachings and desires of Our Lord, Jesus Christ – which today, in my poor words, I would like to ask each one to hear again, according to the vocation he has received:
They will know that you are mine by the way you love each other!
Learn from me who are gentle and humble of heart!
Be perfect as your heavenly Father, who is perfect, makes the sun rise on good and bad!
Be merciful as your Father is merciful
Make sure you have one heart and soul, so that the world believes.
May your constitutional card be the beatitudes
Love one another as I have loved you
Show/Manifest the Trinitarian love present and operating in my church, remembering that I have loved you as the Father has loved me!
Love and give your life for your enemies
Avoid listening to only the things that please your ears, and correct your brothers as we read in Timothy 1,13-14
Remember to pray as Paul teaches us in Ephesians 3, 14-16 “I fall on my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives his true name. I ask God from the wealth of his glory to be strong in your inner selves and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith…”
My dear brothers, it’s so important in our times to openly declare ourselves for the Truth, so that those who do not understand our way of thinking, don’t put us with those who whilst belonging to the church, fight against the truth of Christ.
It is at Caesarea Philippi that we have the fullness of revelation on the type of church that the Father and Christ wanted to found, a church in which we have been given solid principles, – beyond our differences in method and expression -, which all those who say that they belong to the one Church of Christ, must find.
In the sermon at Caesarea (Mt 16, 13-19) there is the involvement of all three persons of the Trinity in the founding upon Peter of the one church of Christ. In fact, that very Peter whom Christ had chosen from the first meeting as head of his church, chosen by the Holy Spirit. (John 1, 41-42)..“Blessed are you son of Jonah for it is not flesh and blood that have revealed this to you but my Father in heaven”
So, as soon as Peter is elected by the Holy Spirit, he goes on to explain and drive home his plan for the church, and to reassure them that the Father will always uphold it…“And I say to you: You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven and what you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
John Paul II has the following to say: “the Word of God draws our attention to what Christ said to Peter and about Peter. Peter’s ministry, that is, the actual service as the Bishop of Rome, in which each one of you, in his relevant field of work, is called to collaborate, unites us in one family… the Church is founded on Peter’s profession of faith ‘You are the Christ’ and Jesus’ declaration ‘You are Peter’… An invincible foundation which the forces of evil will not be able to overcome: it has for its defence, the very will of Our Father in heaven. The Chair of Peter which we celebrate today, does not rest on human certainties, which is in flesh and blood, but on Christ, the cornerstone”
Peter, chosen by Christ, slowly learns that the service for which he was elected, calls him to:
– mistrust human forces:”Peter says to him: ‘Even if they all disown you, I will not’. Jesus says to him: In truth I tell you that this very day, before the cock crows three times you will have denied me three times’ … ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Can you not manage to stay awake for just one hour. Stay awake and pray that you do not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ (Mt 14. 28)… “The Lord turned around and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered that the Lord had said to him, “Before the cock crows tonight you will say three times that you do not know me. Peter went out and wept bitterly”… Luke 22, 61-62
– to believe that God, himself leads the church, through Peter…”I myself will seek out my sheep and look after them… I will pasture my sheep and make them rest…”(Ez 34, 11-15)
– that the Church will not succumb, but only because Christ has prayed and prays for this:”….I pray for them: I do not pray for the world but for those you gave me, for they belong to you…Holy Father, keep them safe by the power of your name, the name you gave me so that they may be one just as you and I are one. I pray not only for them, but also for those who believe in me because of their message. I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me. (John 17, 1-23)
He only asks him to confirm the faith of his brothers and to be completely disposed to love “Simon, Simon! Listen! You must know, the devil has got his wish to sift you all like wheat; but I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail, and once you have recovered, you in your turn must strengthen your brothers (Luke 22, 31-34) “Simon, son of John, do you love me more that these others do? ‘Yes Lord,’ he answered, ‘you know that I love you’ Jesus said to him. ‘Take care of my sheep'”(John 21, 15-18)
The Pope says: “The first reading taken from the famous oracle of the prophet Ezechiel on the shepherds of Israel, forcefully evokes the pastoral nature of Peter’s ministry, which, by reflection is the nature and service of the Roman Curia, whose mission is precisely to collaborate with Peter’s successor for the advancement of the task entrusted to it by Christ of pasturing his flock.”
‘I myself!’ are the most important words here. In fact they show the determination with which God means to take the initiative, looking after his people in the first person when God sent his only Son, the Good Shepherd, to pasture his flock
He sent him to gather the scattered children of God offering himself as the meek lamb, the suffering victim. And this is the model for the Shepherd, which Peter and the other apostles learnt to recognize and imitate through being with Jesus and sharing his messianic ministry.
This is the promise of Christ, our consoling certainty: Peter’s ministry is not based on human strength and ability, but on the prayer of Christ, which beseeches the Father that his faith might not fail..
In spite of his sin and limitations, Christ chose him and called him to a very high task; that of being the foundation of the visible unity of the Church and of strengthening his brothers in faith.
In the end, Peter, who awaits the annointing of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, with Mary and the other disciples, united in prayer, tells us that the church willed by God has its prototype in that gathering.
John Paul II goes on to say at the end of his speech: “Holy Virgin, who in prayer accompanied the first steps of the dawning church watch over our path.. Obtain for us, as for Peter, the constant support of Christ”
Before I finish I would like to add one or two thoughts on whether, in the practice of our ecclesiastical life, we are more or less close to that model of the church, that model with Peter at its head serving and pasturing the entrusted flock, which the Father had thought from all eternity, and which the Son has fulfilled historically in time, and which the Spirit leads towards its fulfilment when Christ will be all in all and will hand over to the Father all those entrusted to him:
– The Father dreams of gathering all the flocks into the one sheepfold of Jesus, his Son, who is the great Shepherd of sinners. But how often in the sheepfold of Christ do we spend our time quarelling, to see who is the greatest among us.
– Jesus prays to the Father that we are one, as he and the Father are one. But we often boast and give thanks to God that we belong to a religion that procures our salvation; we feel ourselves to be righteous, though knowing that the only way to approach God and return home pardoned of one’s sins is that of the publican.
– Often, too often, the beliefs of our brothers, the possible explanations of others, don’t even touch us or bother us. And yet doubts, when they aren’t about faith or doctirne are extremely healthy!
– How can we expect the Father to unite us if, inside each of our churches we are often concerned with having, or cutting out, our little space, our own apostolic territory in which to evangelize and perform acts of charity? The indivualism that Paul speaks about in Corinthians 1, 11-13: doesn’t make that distinction of diversity over which the Spirit unites. “For some people from Chloe’s family have told me quite plainly, my brothers, that there are quarrels among you. Let me put it this way; each one of you says something different. One says, ‘I follow Paul’, another, ‘I follow Apollos’, another, ‘I follow Peter’ and another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Christ has been divided into groups!”
– When we think of our faith as our own patrimony, and we don’t want others to make use of it for the good of our brothers as Luke tells us in (Lk 9, 49-50) John spoke up, “Master, we saw a man driving out demons in your name, and we told him to stop, because he doesn’t belong to our group. “Do not try to stop him,’ Jesus said to him and to the other disciples, ‘because whoever is not against you is for you.’ Aren’t we perhaps changing the service of the gospel into a power, an arbitrary judge which discriminates rather that favouring unity among Christians?’
And I would like to conclude by asking you all to pray together with me to the Father, to ask him for the gift of unity in the words of his Son, as reported by John in his gospel: for certain when there are two or more gathered together in his name, he is present in our midst.
“As the Father has loved me so I have loved you” means that as long as this Trinitarian unity lasts, the one Church of Christ will last; We pray that the Father would really grant us that the plans for his church be fulfilled, not our human plans but His plans!
Before the prayer I would just like to underline two important things that we will read in a moment. If the world still doesn’t believe it is because we haven’t done enough to achieve unity: in fact Jesus says: ‘As you Father, are in me, and I in you, may they be one in us, so that the world may believe…’
Our unrealized unity conditions the faith of those who still don’t believe and those who no longer believe: because unity is lacking, this prevents them from knowing the love of God and feeling themsleves to be personally loved by God. We seriously have to ask ourselves about these words of Jesus: ‘may they be perfect in their unity and may the world know that you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.’
And now in the words of Paul to the Romans (Rm 15 5-7) “Accept one another, then for the glory of God…And may God, the source of patience and encouragement, enable you to have the same point of view among yourselves by following the example of Christ Jesus, so that all of you together may praise with one voice the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
” Father the hour has come, Give glory to your Son, so that the Son glorifies you. For you gave him authority over every human being, so that he would give eternal life to all those that you gave him. This is eternal life: that they know you, the one true God, and the one you have sent, Jesus Christ. I have glorified you above all the earth, fulfilling the task you gave me to do.
And now Father, glorify me in your presence, with that glory that I took from you before the world was made. I have made your name known to the ones you gave me from the world. They were yours and you have given them to me so that the words you gave me I have given to them, they have gathered them and know that they come from you and have believed that you sent me.
I pray for them, I do not pray for the world, but for those you have given me, that they may be yours. AlI I have belongs to you and all you have belongs to me and I am glorified in them. I am no longer in the world: but they are in the world, and I come to you. Holy Father, look after those you have given me in your name that they may be one as we are one.
When I was with them, I held them safe in the power of your name and I watched over them: none of them was lost except the one who was bound to be lost, so that Scriptures would be fulfilled. Now I am coming to you and ask these things while they are still in the world, so that they may have the fullness of my joy. I gave them your message and the world hated them because they do not belong to this world just as I do not belong to this world.
I do not ask you to take them out of this world, but to protect them from evil. They are not of the world as I am not of the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world: for them I consecrated myself so that they may be consecrated in the truth. I do not pray only for these, but also for those who through their words will believe in me: so that all may be one. As you, Father, are in me and I in you, may they be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. And the glory that you have given me, I gave to them, so that they may be one.
I in them and you in me, so that they may be perfect in unity and the world will know that you have sent me and have loved them as I have loved you. Father, you have given them to me and I want them to be with me where I am, so that they contemplate my glory, the glory which you gave me: for you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you and these know that you sent me. And I have made them know your name and I will make it known so that the love with which you loved me be in them and I in them.” (John 17)
Mons. Paolo Maria Hnilica S.J.,
Bishop of Rusado, March 2000