Commentary: “Called Together to Be Peacemakers”

 — May 14, 200414 mai 2004

Called Together to be Peacemakers
Report of the International Dialogue between the Catholic Church
and Mennonite World Conference, 1998-2003

A commentary by Rev. Bernard de Margerie, Saskatoon

This Report could be a wonderfully helpful instrument for Mennonites and Roman Catholics on the local level. If, with proper guidance, small groups dare to tackle the Report, they will find it a treasury of new understanding and wisdom that will help them “grow together” as sisters and brothers in Christ.

The document is the result of five years (1998-2003) of intense research, dialogue and prayer in common by this international group. They were some fifteen participants, officially appointed to the dialogue group by the authorities of the Mennonite and Roman Catholic denominations. The Report is entitled: Called Together to Be Peacemakers.

1) The Report states up front the purpose of this dialogue group: “In the spirit of friendship and reconciliation, a dialogue between Catholics and Mennonites took place over a five-year period, from 1998-2003.” (1)

“This was a new process of reconciliation. The two dialogue partners had had no official dialogue previous to this, and therefore started afresh. Our purpose was to assist Mennonites and Catholics to overcome the consequences of almost five centuries of mutual isolation and hostility. We wanted to explore whether it is not possible to create a new atmosphere in which to meet each other. After all, despite all that may still divide us, the ultimate identity of both is rooted in Jesus Christ.” (2)

Local groups will be enlightened and encouraged in learning of how a new climate of brotherhood/sisterhood is now being declared and nurtured at a quite authoritative level of our respective denominations.

2) One key insight of the Report concerns the considerable benefit still-divided-Christians can derive from re-reading our church history together.

“A common re-reading of the history of the church has proven to be fruitful in recent church dialogues. The same is true for our dialogue. Mennonites and Catholics have lived more than 475 years of separation. Over the centuries they developed separate views of the history of the Christian tradition. By studying history together, we discovered that our interpretations of the past were often incomplete and limited. Sharing our insights and our assessments of the past helped us gain a broader view of the history of the church.” (23)…

The above is part of Chapter I entitled ‘Considering History Together’. This chapter attempts, fairly extensively, a common reading of church history particularly relevant to Mennonites and Catholics. Four subheadings indicate the scope:

1) A Profile of the Religious Situation of Western Europe on the Eve of the Reformation (30-37)
2) The Rupture between Catholics and Anabaptists (38-52)
3) The Constantinian Era (53-62)
4) Toward a Shared Understanding of the Middles Ages (63-68)

3) The Report reminds us:

“When conflict occurs within an institution and separation ensues, discourse easily takes on the nature of self-justification. As Mennonites and Catholics begin discussion after centuries of separate institutional existence, we need to be aware that we have developed significant aspects of our self-understandings and theologies in contexts where we have often tried to prove that we are right and they are wrong. … These facts could help both traditions to be more open to the concerns of the other, and to look more carefully at the fifteen centuries of commonly shared history as well as the different paths each has taken since the sixteenth century.” (49)

4) The Report’s Chapter II, ‘Considering Theology Together’, offers an explanation of some points of Christian doctrine, as understood by Catholics and Mennonites respectively. It summarizes understandings of some major issues, i.e. the nature of the Church (70-110), sacraments and ordinances –especially baptism and eucharist/the Lord’s Supper (111-144), and our commitment to peace (145-189). In each of these areas, The authors summarize the main understandings held by each denomination. They also exemplify a key method of all ecumenical dialogue reports in the last decades: on each major point of teaching the text articulates areas of common understanding, areas of convergence, areas of divergence and areas for future study. The tone is unfailingly honest, mutually respectful and hopeful. One senses a new spirit of active Christian brotherhood being born and nurtured here. It is crucial that local congregations/parishes learn to “receive” such attitudes and gradually make them their own.

5) Regarding doctrine on sacraments/ordinances, for example, we read the following under the subheading of ‘Convergences’:

“The Catholic Church and the Mennonite Church agree that baptism and the Lord’s Supper have their origin and point of reference in Jesus Christ and in the teachings of Scripture. Both regard the celebration of these sacraments/ordinances as extraordinary occasions of encounter with God’s offer of grace revealed in Jesus Christ. They are important moments in the believers’ commitment to the body of Christ and to the Christian way of life. Catholics and Mennonites see the sacraments/ordinances as acts of the Church.” (128)

Under the subheading of ‘Divergences,’ the text comments:

“Both Mennonites and Catholics view sacraments and ordinances as outward signs instituted by Christ, but we have differing understandings of the power of signs. For Mennonites, ordinances as signs point to the salvific work of Christ and invite participation in the life of Christ. For Catholics, in addition to participating in the life of Christ, signs also communicate to those who receive them, the grace proper to each sacrament.” (135)

6) In the section entitled ‘Our Commitment to Peace,’ we find probing analyses of how each church understands peace, peace-making and unity-building. There is much food here for thoughtful learning and action at the local level. (145-189)

7) Chapter III, ‘Toward a Healing of Memories’, is perhaps the most precious and accessible by Christians in the pew. After history (Chap. I) and theology (Chap. II), here is a reflection that touches heart and conscience at the deepest level. The chapter examines four issues:

1) the purification of memories (192-197)
2) a spirit of repentance, a penitential spirit
3) ascertaining a shared Christian faith (207-210), and
4) improving our relationships (211-214)

There is profound, moving stuff here that begs shared meditation and conversation at the grassroots. For example:

“Together we acknowledge and regret that indifference, tension and hostility between Catholics and Mennonites exist in some places today, and this for a variety of historical and contemporary reasons. Together we reject the use of any physical coercion or verbal abuse in situations of disagreement, and we call on all Christians to do likewise. We commit ourselves to self-examination, dialogue and interaction that manifest Jesus Christ’s reconciling love, and we encourage our brothers and sisters everywhere to join us in this commitment.” (206)

The Report has this most thoughtful and earnest conclusion:

“After having worked with each other over these five years, we, Catholic and Mennonite members of this dialogue, want to testify together that our mutual love for Christ has united us and accompanied us in our discussions. Our dialogue has fortified the common conviction that it is possible to experience reconciliation and the healing of memories. Therefore we beseech God to bestow divine grace upon us for the healing of past relationships between Mennonites and Catholics, and we thank God for present commitments to reconciliation within the body of Christ. Together we pray that God may bless this new relationship between our two families of faith, and that the Holy Spirit may enlighten and enliven us in our common journey on the path forward.” (215)

AMEN! AMEN! AMEN! on the local level!…

Posted: May 14, 2004 • Permanent link:
Categories: OpinionIn this article: Catholic, Christian unity, dialogue, ecumenism, Mennonite, Mennonite World Conference, peace
Transmis : 14 mai 2004 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : OpinionDans cet article : Catholic, Christian unity, dialogue, ecumenism, Mennonite, Mennonite World Conference, peace

  Previous post: Ancien article : The Canadian Centre for Ecumenism Celebrates 40 Years!
  Newer post: Article récent : Anne Keffer elected as Directing Deaconess in the ELCA