The reformation is over and the Pope wants unity

PopeOne doesn’t have to an expert on church history to know that relationships between the Roman Catholic Church and the protestants have seldom been genuinely fraternal.  Even though we don’t burn each other at the stake any more, we don’t always get along comfortably.  This may be set to change as Pope Francis makes an impassioned personal appeal for Christian unity.

Syzygy’s friend Tony Palmer, a bishop in the Anglican Celtic tradition, has for many years lived in Italy mentoring charismatic Roman Catholic priests and has built up many influential links as the Holy Spirit brings renewal.  Recently he had a private audience with Pope Francis, at the Pope’s request, during which they made a short video together.

In this video Tony first explains why the worldwide Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church have agreed that the reformation is now over and that both churches agree that the theological basis for our salvation is grace alone.  The Roman Catholic Church has officially agreed that Luther was right!  Tony briefly explains the details of this before showing an emotional personal appeal for ecumenical unity from Pope Francis to his protestant brothers and sisters in Christ.  This historic and inspiring video is a ‘must-see’!  You can view it by clicking here.  Syzygy recommends that you watch it all the way through to get the full effect.

This whole topic of course will raise questions in the minds of many evangelicals about the theological difference between protestants and Roman Catholics, particularly over some doctrines and practices which protestants have issues with.  There may be doubts about whether there is a real desire for unity at grass-roots level, and questions about openness and integrity.  This is likely to be a particularly painful issue for those Christians who have suffered in the Roman Catholic Church but have found a home in protestant churches.  But it is important for us to recognise that this is not the end of a journey, but the beginning.

Tony Palmer comments: “What has changed is that Pope Francis wants to simplify the basis of unity.  If you note Pope Francis mirrored Jesus’ theology when a lawyer asked Jesus what was necessary for eternal life:

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the law?  What is your reading of it?”  So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbour as yourself.’ ”  And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28 NKJV)

The bottom line is that Pope Francis has reduced his basis for inclusion to those suggested by Jesus to the lawyer quoted above: ‘To love God, above all, and to love our neighbour, because he/she is our brother/sister’.

In my Italian and Celtic culture, we get to know each other while we share life together.  Friendship precedes the deeper understanding of each other’s beliefs; I get to find out what people believe AFTER I have offered them unconditional love and friendship.  This is what we need to do with each other.  When we learn to trust each other, only then will we be able to hear each other without prejudice.”

It is clear that this is not going to be an easy journey for anyone, but before protestants start getting hot under the collar about issues in the Roman Catholic Church, we should remember that none of us are perfect, and we would do well to respond with the same generosity of spirit as Pope Francis, in lowering the bar and minimising the essential requirements for Christian unity.

And let’s pray for this radical Pope, that he will be able to complete the reforms he has started.



A friend commented recently that I use the word ‘unpacking’ a lot.  It’s true: as a traveller I find myself unpacking frequently, and being of an orderly disposition I don’t really feel settled in until the case is unpacked  and everything’s neatly packed away.  You know I’m really tired if I get home late but leave the bags unpacked on the floor till the morning.

But it’s not this sort of unpacking that she was talking about.  It’s when unpacking is a metaphor for reflection on an experience, an emotion, or event.  You could equally call it processing, but I think that sounds a bit too, well, process-oriented.

In my experience mission workers do far too little unpacking.  We carry a lot of clutter around with us, and often pay a price for taking our ‘excess baggage’ with us.  It can be very unhealthy to take with us everywhere we go our crates of past disappointments, frustrations and hurts.  Spiritually and emotionally, it’s good to travel light.  So how do we get rid of our excess baggage?

Unpacking is the activity of reviewing what has happened to us, reflecting on it, learning the lessons, and moving on.  We are most accustomed to doing this when we have a debrief.  We look back at our last term of service and review what went well, or badly, and how we grew as a result.  Truthfully recognising our role in the events, and how we reacted to them, helps us.  It can bring emotions to the surface which, once acknowledged, can be dealt with.

People who follow Ignatian spirituality do this practice regularly, in many cases at least once a day.  They call it the Examen.  It’s a very healthy procedure which involves analysing how we feel, particularly if a strong emotion has surfaced.  We can do it periodically, often in the aftermath of a challenging event or incident.  Asking ourselves such questions as Why was I so angry?  What was I afraid of? or What made me feel so happy? will help us learn about our emotions and understand our responses.  By examining our choices and our reactions, we create a place in which we can forgive those who have wronged us, and repent of the wrongs we have done.

Sometimes when emotions rise up it’s because  we feel vulnerable (even if it’s only subconsciously) It has been compared to  sitting on top of a wobbling pole, so we try to re-establish security by placing big rocks around the base of the pole to stop it wobbling.  These rocks represent potentially compulsive behaviours like shopping, drink or drugs, being a star employee, excelling as a parent/partner/child, eating, or having sex.

These activities, while not necessarily wrong in themselves, help to bolster our short-term feelings of self-esteem, so when we’re tempted to indulge in one or more of them to excess, it is helpful to ask why.  It may be that some recent experience has undermined our self-esteem so that we need to take steps to feel good about ourselves.  The problem is that none of these activities actually delivers long-term good self-esteem, so we have to keep on doing them to feel good.  Only a full appreciation of our relationship with God in Christ can set us free from this cycle of compulsive self-destruction.


Sometimes we experience emotional instability because we are carrying too much excess baggage.  It’s rather like having a case which won’t shut without us sitting on it, so the stuff inside keeps spilling out at inopportune moments.  This is what happens when our emotions burst unhelpfully into daily life.

The solution is to open the case and get everything out.  Take a good look at each individual item (memory, emotion, experience) and decide whether you really need to keep it.  If not, throw it out.  If you do need to keep it, fold it up neatly and put it back in the case, which will now shut properly.

Orderly unpacking will help us travel lighter.

FYI – Pope Benedict XVI visits Britain

Cardinal Newman, from a painting by John Everett Millais

September sees the first ever state visit of a Pope to Britain.  Yes, I know the previous Pope visited, but that was a ‘private’ visit – the visit of a spiritual leader to his church.  But on this occasion, Benedict XVI was invited by Queen Elizabeth and comes in his capacity as head of state of the Vatican.

He arrives in Edinburgh on 16th September, where there will be an official reception for him in the grounds of Holyrood House, hosted by the Queen.  The Pope will later hold an open-air mass in Glasgow before flying to London, where he will meet the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and will celebrate evening prayer in Westminster Abbey before holding a vigil in Hyde Park.

Arguably the most significant event of the visit will be an open-air mass in Birmingham where Cardinal John Henry Newman will be beatified.  The prominent 19th century Anglican priest joined the Roman Catholic church in 1847 and became a leading figure in the Oratory movement, founding the English-speaking world’s first oratory in Birmingham. Cardinal Newman became eligible to be beatified (which means he will be referred to as ‘the blessed’ Cardinal Newman) following the Vatican’s confirmation earlier this year that the inexplicable recovery of a Massachusetts man from a spinal disorder was attributable to the intercessory intervention of Newman.  A further miracle, which is already under investigation, will need to be confirmed before the Cardinal can be recognised as a Saint.

Cardinal Newman’s beatification is not without controversy, since for many years there have been suggestions that he was gay.  Although there is no direct evidence of this, it is true that he shared a home with a male companion for many years, and the two were buried in the same grave.  An attempted excavation of Newman’s remains in 2008, to move them to the Oratory in direct contravention of his instructions, was condemned as ‘moral vandalism’ by gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who suggested that the church was attempting to hide embarrassing evidence.

The Pope’s visit also takes place against a background of muddle and overspend which has been an embarrassment to the team organising the visit, and the high cost of security, which falls to the UK government as this is a state visit.  Moreover, there continue to be ongoing rumbles of concern that, while still a cardinal, the Pope was involved in (or at least complicit in) the cover-up of cases of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests.  Whether this is true is not certain, but what appears clear is that the Pope is personally greatly pained by these accusations.  There is no indication yet that the Pope will have any contact with victims, or make any statement of apology or regret.

It is to be hoped that his visit will bring great encouragement to the many millions of Roman Catholics in Britain, and will lead to effective dialogue with the protestant churches.

More details can be found at the visit’s website