"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Friday, November 2, 2007

Archbishop Burke: Unity, Holiness and Apostolicity

Today at the noon Mass at the Saint Louis Cathedral Basilica I was sitting almost directly under the elevated lectern where Archbishop Burke gave the homily for the Feast of All Souls. (All the concelebrating priests were sitting where I usually sit.)

Listening to him brought to mind the way in which both Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Burke make true unity with Protestants more possible. According to some Protestants, ecclesiastical discipline is a mark of the Church. Where discipline is lacking, they claim, the Church is not present. There is truth to that. For Catholics, discipline is included in this line from the Creed: "We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church". Without at least the willingness to discipline, how could it be said that the Church is holy? A Protestant friend of mine not too long ago asked me about holiness as a mark. Where is holiness in the Catholic Church, he asked. When we see clear cases of wickedness, and discipline seems to be lacking, how can we say that the Catholic Church is the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church"? I had similar thoughts both before becoming Catholic, and, even after.

But I have discovered that there is holiness in the Catholic Church. It tends not to make headlines, while cases of egregious depravity surely do. In fact, holy people tend either to annoy the media (imagine how the contemporary press would cover John the Baptist), or be entirely ignored by the media. Holy people do not seek media attention; they prefer secluded places for prayer and humble service. And so from the outside they are mostly invisible. From the inside, they are all over the place. And in some places the concentration of holiness is astounding. Last year, for example, I visited a convent in Nashville and was deeply affected by the obvious holiness of the sisters there. Last weekend I spent two days in the company of a nun-in-the-making. In her presence the verse that kept coming to my mind was John 1:47, "Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile." In talking with her I was talking to an adult with a graduate level education but who had the innocence and goodness and purity of a little child. Every Monday an elderly sister comes to RCIA. I am not sure I have ever met a more Christ-like person in my life. Her every thought is for others, even though she is probably at least in her eighties, if not older. Kindness pours out of her. Her eyes gleam with joy and gratitude. When I watch her, I think, "That's what I want to be like when I reach that age." Last night I was talking with my wife about people we know who could become saints. The first person she suggested was Archbishop Burke. I agree.

I'm not sure the secular media has yet said much positive about Archbishop Burke. But he is not seeking their praise anyway; he is seeking to please the Lord. He has recently been in the news for writing this article, which provoked responses like this from Ed Peters and this from the Catholic News Agency and "Bishop Would Deny Communion to Giuliani" from the AP. To Protestants who take their faith seriously, Archbishop Burke is someone they can respect for his principled position with respect to the Church's responsibility to safeguard the holiness of the Eucharist. Archbishop Burke's orthodoxy makes 'cafeteria Catholics' uneasy, but in a certain way it challenges biblically-minded Protestants in the St. Louis archdiocese to justify remaining in a state of protest. Abortion? Check. Human embryonic stem cell research? Check. Human cloning? Check. Same-sex 'marriage'? Check. Liturgical propriety? Check. Personal holiness? Check. Love for Christ? Check. Love for Scripture? Check. Willing to discipline? Check. Humble? Check. For these reasons a Biblically-minded Protestant layman or pastor shares much common ground with Archbishop Burke, and can find very much to respect in Archbishop Burke. A person of his character and disposition and principle is a person with whom Biblically-minded Protestant pastors can enter into dialogue. The gulf between theological liberals and evangelicals is far greater than the theological differences between orthodox Catholics and Biblically-minded Protestants.

When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released its "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church" in July of this year, Archbishop Burke wrote a very helpful summary that can be found here. In it we see the concern of both the Holy See and Archbishop Burke to safeguard apostolicity. These concerns for holiness and apostolicity provide a good place to begin ecumenical dialogue.

Today I noticed in the news that Pope Benedict is seeking to promote dialogue with non-Catholic Christians. The four marks of the Church are not unrelated to each other; they each depend on the other. That is why the concern for the holiness and apostolicity of the Church as shown both by Pope Benedict and by Archbishop Burke open the door for genuine ecumenical dialogue with those not in full communion with the Catholic Church. To my Protestant brothers and sisters in the Saint Louis archdiocese, let me ask you prayerfully to consider entering into dialogue with Archbishop Burke concerning the unity of the Church in this archdiocese. We can be one again, but first we have to realize that we should be one and are not now one. Once we grasp that, we should be wearing out each other's doorsteps in our commitment to dialogue until unity is recovered. Our hearts are filled with the passion of Christ's sacred heart, revealed in His most intimate prayer: that we would all be one, even as He and the Father are one. (John 17:21,22)

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