Isaiah 49:3,5-6; Psalm (39)40:2,4,7-10; 1 Cor 1:1-3; John 1:29-34.
Jesus is proclaimed as the Light of the Nations and the Lamb of God. He has come to show us the Father and, through the sacrifice of his life, to build the bridge of reconciliation between God and humanity.
John the Baptist points to Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Lamb to be sacrificed as an eternal sacrifice of reconciliation. He is the one, chosen by the Father and anointed by the Holy Spirit, called to take away the sins of the world.
Jesus’ love of the Father and of humanity leads him to sacrifice his life on the cross so that, in him, humanity can once again be united with God.
Jesus’ love for humanity inspired Joseph De Piro who, not only reflected on love in his homilies and in his writings, but also accepted the role of instrument of peace among his contemporaries.
Apart from his reflections about love, some of which were presented in last week’s readings, De Piro was often an instrument of peace. He worked for peace during the riots on 7th June 1919[i]; in the Gudia and Qrendi parishes; during the conflict between the Maltese Church authorities and Prime Minister Lord Gerard Strickland; in his efforts to acquire land for the extension of St Joseph’s Orphanage in Gozo; and in resolving the daily conflicts that arose between the early members of his missionary society. The Servant of God also promoted unity among Christians.
Missionaries from different Christian denominations, who were evangelising people in the same countries, often ran into conflict with each other. In 1910 the World Mission Conference organised a meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, to address this conflict. The conference organisers avoided discussing doctrinal questions; their intention was to present Christianity as a united front combatting the issues of the day. Two major groups were born at this conference:
(a) Life and Work, focusing primarily on missions and service; they generally avoided doctrinal questions and instead focused on social issues.
(b) Faith and Order, concentrated on worship and a discussion about the Church and how it functions. This group compared the different doctrines but did not seek to iron out any differences. It believed that each community was entitled to its own beliefs, even if these were contrary to those of other communities. The purpose of the movement was not to convert any community to the ideas of another one.
The work of Faith and Order stalled during World War I. The political tension before the war made meetings between people from different countries impossible. In 1927 the movement organised its first major conference. Some representatives visited Pope Pius XI to invite him to participate. The Holy Father welcomed the visitors warmly and encouraged the spirit that led them to seek unity; at the same time, he firmly refused to attend and forbade any Catholics to participate.
Four hundred and fifty people, representing ninety different denominations, attended the conference. The agenda called for discussions on unity, ecclesiology, sacraments, and ministry; not surprisingly, little could be accomplished. Discussions about doctrinal differences were not entered into. Conflict between the High Church and the Low Church meant that the representatives could not agree on the nature of an ecumenical movement. The most significant feature of the event was that it took place at all.
The encyclical Mortalium Animos published by Pius XI in 1928, strongly condemned the errors in the ecumenical movements of the day. He acknowledged that, superficially, these efforts appeared good and worthy, but, he warned: “In reality beneath these enticing words and blandishments lies hidden a most grave error by which the foundations of the Catholic faith are completely destroyed.” (MA 4)
Pius XI described these errors. Firstly, those encouraging these efforts denied the visible reality of the Church of Christ, maintaining that the true Church is only invisible: “They understand a visible Church as nothing else than a federation composed of various communities of Christians, even though they adhere to different doctrines that may even be incompatible with each other.” (MA 6)
Secondly, he criticised the efforts that seek to deny the contradictions found in the beliefs of many Christian denominations. By maintaining that only a handful of doctrines, or ‘fundamentals,’ actually require unity of belief, they allowed for direct contradictions within their invisible ‘Church of Christ.’ They saw these differences and contradictions as unimportant: “They add that the Church in itself, or of its nature, is divided into sections; that is to say, that it is made up of several churches or distinct communities that still remain separate and, although having certain articles of doctrine in common, nevertheless disagree concerning the remainder…. Controversies, therefore, they say, and longstanding differences of opinion that keep asunder till the present day the members of the Christian families, must be entirely put aside and from the remaining doctrines a common form of faith drawn up and proposed for belief.” (MA 7)
In light of these errors the Holy Father condemned these efforts as ‘pan-Christianity:’ “This being so, it is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises.” (MA 8)
Within this context, De Piro encouraged prayer for unity. Br Emanuel Gafà testified that: “He used to tell us to repeat the part of the Litany of the Saints: ‘Call back to the one Church those who have been separated from it, and call to the light of the gospel all the unbelievers.’ This prayer hung in the corridor, near the frame with the heroic act of charity.”[ii]
In the almanac De Piro wrote: “Let us entreat St Paul for … the reunification of all our separated brothers and sisters ….”[iii]
[i] Known is history as the Sette Giugno riots.
[ii] Testimonies, vol III, p. 159.
[iii] San Paul: Almanakk tal-Istitut tal-Missjoni, (1931), p. 4).