From May 24 to 26, Pope Francis will be making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He will pray at the shrines made holy by Jesus and Mary. He will also meet with Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting of Pope Paul VI with Athenagoras, patriarch of Constantinople. For some, this visit may seem to be of little note. I see it as an opportunity to deepen our awareness of who we are as the one Catholic Church—East and West.
Who do you see as your Mother Church? My guess is that many of us in the West would answer Rome. It’s understandable, but Jerusalem would be a more fitting answer. Jesus suffered, died, and rose from the dead in Jerusalem. From there, after Pentecost, the first followers, filled with the zeal and fire of the Holy Spirit, founded churches all over the world.
St. Peter, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, came to Rome as its first bishop. According to tradition, Andrew established the Church in Constantinople; Thomas went to India; Mark the Evangelist became bishop of Alexandria. By divine providence, Vatican II said the apostles and their successors established churches, “which have their own discipline, enjoy their own liturgical usage, and their own theological and spiritual heritage” (Lumen Gentium, 23).
Working for Unity
The first break in unity was in the 5th century after the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. In the 11th century, the Great Schism separated Constantinople from Rome, and subsequently the Orthodox East from the Catholic West. In the following centuries, many efforts were made for reconciliation. The groups that responded were called Uniate Christians. Some Churches, such as the Coptic, were divided into Catholic and Orthodox.
Today the major Catholic traditions in the Middle East are: Alexandrian, Antiochian, Armenian, Chaldean, Constantinopolitan (Byzantine), and Latin (Roman). Orthodox Churches are not in full communion, but possess true sacraments: Baptism, the priesthood, and the Eucharist, “whereby they are still joined to us in closest intimacy” (Catechism of the Catholic Church). Roman Church law (Canon 844) grants that, when necessary, a Catholic can receive the sacraments of Penance, Eucharist, and Anointing of the Sick from an Orthodox priest, and a Catholic priest can give these sacraments to an Orthodox Church.
In the United States, millions of the members are our neighbors. Some are in union with the pope and others Orthodox. In Jerusalem, Pope Francis will experience the riches and diversity of the Eastern Church. Besides meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew I, he will share in an ecumenical service with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, and other patriarchs. Coptic, Syriac, and Ethiopian Christians will celebrate together at the Holy Sepulcher. In Bethlehem, the pope will celebrate with Arab Christians of various rites and Hebrew-speaking Christians who live in the Holy Land.
We all need to pray and work for unity. As Pope St. John Paul II insisted, the Church must breathe with both lungs—the East and the West.
Dear Friar Jim: The Holy Spirit was with me when I read your most recent E-spiration. Our son was overwhelmed with debt. He tried to resolve it on his own. Finally, he approached my husband and me about his dilemma. After a lot of thought and prayer, we decided to help him. Some told us not to do it. Our son is most grateful, and our relationship is solid. Your E-spiration came at the perfect time to reassure me that we did the right thing by helping him out. Thank you and God bless you! Carol
A: Dear Carol: There are always difficult questions in such situations, but it appears that the peace you experienced is a good sign that you did what your heart led you to. Your gift of help spoke of the love in your heart, and that is most important. Friar Jim
Dear Friar Jim: Thank you for this beautiful E-spiration. It echoes completely what I felt after the death of my parents. Especially at Easter, I’m reminded that our relationship continues in a different way. Our love has only deepened. Deirdre
A: Dear Deirde: Once God gives life, it never ends and neither do relationships. In fact, they intensify. The core of our humanity is seen in the love we experience with those so close to us. Friar Jim
Dear Friar Jim: This particular reading touched my heart. Today I am 64, and I received several Skype calls wishing me a happy birthday. I am living in Ecuador away from family. It also touched me in that I have been widowed for more than six years. My husband and I shared a very deep relationship. How blessed I am! Diane
A: Dear Diane: When we experience love from a distance, we know the power of relationships doesn’t depend on proximity or visibility. Your husband has never left your side anymore than Joseph left Mary’s side when he died. My mom and dad are always with me in all I do. Our relationship is real, not just based on memories. Friar Jim