Catholics with Lutheran roots join prayer for unity but oppose compromising Catholic truths

| Susan Klemond | July 26, 2017 | 0 Comments

This statue of Martin Luther sits on the campus of Concordia University in St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

In January 1988, Elizabeth Moldenhauer prayed while on retreat at a Houston, Minnesota, Carmelite hermitage that God would heal her own brokenness, as well as the division between the Lutheran and Catholic churches. Moldenhauer, then a Lutheran living in Minneapolis, had made retreats before during the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, but this time she felt the Lord calling her to become Catholic.

“It just hurt so, because we are so broken,” she said, “and as a former Lutheran who loves the roots of my Lutheran faith, that caused me to chew on Scriptures to the point that I couldn’t turn away from truth anymore.”

Moldenhauer, 66, entered the Catholic Church at St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony that Easter, following years of faith-related search and study. Now living in Syracuse, New York, she continues to pray for unity as Catholics and Lutherans commemorate the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation.

Moldenhauer also prays that Catholic leaders will not diminish the truth of Catholic teaching in their efforts to bring the churches together.

The Protestant Reformation began in Wittenberg, Germany, in October 1517 as then-Augustinian priest Martin Luther detailed questions and propositions related to Catholic Church reform, known as his “95 Theses.” Luther’s ideas attracted followers who eventually broke from the Catholic Church.

The Reformation was a breaking of the body of Christ that should be commemorated with prayer, fasting and seeking forgiveness, said Moldenhauer, noting that major differences separate the churches, including the nature of the Eucharist, papal authority, understanding Scripture and the role of sacred tradition.

A year for reflection, prayer

Pope Francis joined Protestant leaders in Lund, Sweden, Oct. 31, 2016, for an ecumenical prayer service marking the beginning of the 500th anniversary year. He began the service praying that the Holy Spirit would “help us to rejoice in the gifts that have come to the Church through the Reformation.” In an interview, he said those gifts were greater appreciation of the Bible as God’s word and an acknowledgment that members of the Church are called to a process of ongoing reform.

At an ecumenical prayer service in January attended by Catholics and Lutherans at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Archbishop Bernard Hebda quoted from Pope Francis’ talk before a Finland Lutheran delegation that month: “True ecumenism is based on a shared conversion to Jesus Christ as our lord and redeemer.”

The archbishop said he shared the pope’s conviction that a “communion of harmony” permits the Holy Spirit to act, aiding further conversions on points of doctrine and the Church’s moral teaching. The Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul will hold another ecumenical prayer service in January 2018.

This Reformation anniversary is the first that both churches agreed to commemorate together, said Father Erich Rutten, parochial administrator of St. Peter Claver in St. Paul and chairman of the archdiocesan Commission on Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs. It’s important for Catholics and Lutherans to remember the Reformation’s enormous consequences, reflect on its meaning and pray together for unity, he said.

Carl Ostling, 51, a Benedictine Oblate at St. Paul’s Monastery and parishioner of St. Peter in Forest Lake who came into the Catholic Church from the Lutheran faith four years ago, agreed that it’s good that the different traditions pray together for unity, but not at the expense of Catholic teaching.

He worries that some ecumenical efforts “lessen the faith and differences we have.”

Recalling his altar server experience at his family’s Lutheran church in Ohio, Ostling said he recognizes the differences between the understanding of Communion in the Lutheran Church and the Eucharist in the Catholic Church. He added that he is grateful he can now receive the Eucharist as a Catholic after years of searching for a faith tradition that offered true community.

Work to resolve theological differences has been underway since the Second Vatican Council. Ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans resulted in a joint declaration issued in 1999 that acknowledged Luther’s position on justification. However, Lutheran bodies with about 18 percent of world Lutheran membership rejected the declaration, among them the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which accounts for about one-third of all U.S. Lutherans. The World Methodist Council adopted the doctrine in 2006.

Earlier this month, the World Communion of Reformed Churches also adopted the statement. The Reformed Churches represent an estimated 80 million Christians in Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed, United, Uniting and Waldensian churches around the world. In a statement published July 4, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity referred to the event “as another important milestone on the journey toward the full visible unity of Christians; not yet the end of the road, but a significant stage on the way.”

For Pope Francis and the Vatican, Catholics are called to commemorate the 500th anniversary by focusing on concrete ways to express and strengthen the doctrinal agreements reached by Catholic and Lutheran theologians over the past 50 years. The most appropriate way to mark the anniversary, they said, was with common prayer and renewed commitments to working together to help the poor and promote justice.

Leaders of the Lutheran World Federation agree, but many also saw the joint commemoration in October as a moment to recognize that the joint agreements on issues of faith over the past 50 years mean it is appropriate to expand occasions when eucharistic sharing is possible. The Catholic Church has insisted that regular sharing of the Eucharist will be possible only when divided Christians have attained full unity.

A joint statement signed in Lund by Pope Francis and the president of the Lutheran World Federation said, “Many members of our communities yearn to receive the Eucharist at one table as the concrete expression of full unity.” They did not, however, authorize further opportunities for shared Communion, but expressed longing “for this wound in the body of Christ to be healed. This is the goal of our ecumenical endeavors, which we wish to advance, also by renewing our commitment to theological dialogue.”

Ecumenism ‘unity together’

Ecumenism is not about finding the least common denominator between the churches, but rather unity together, said Deacon Steve Moses, 55, who ministers at St. Dominic in Northfield.

“The central realities of what make us Catholic are not changeable,” said Deacon Moses, who grew up Lutheran and entered the Catholic Church in 1990. “You can’t change them at a whim. I think there are a lot of people that would like unity. I think it is possible. I think dialogue and prayer need to continue, as well as being open to the Holy Spirit.”

Formerly a Lutheran deacon, Deacon Moses become Catholic after marrying a Catholic and coming to love the Church. Now in the Catholic diaconate, he serves as a Northfield police chaplain.

Catholics and Lutherans share one baptism and faith in Christ, and while Catholics have the fullness of what it means to be Church, the Lutheran church has some of the same elements, Father Rutten said.

The Catholic Church already sees a real, though imperfect, unity, though some strong differences remain, he said. The churches share a primary identity in Christ, he added, and there is room to work together for unity without compromising on the truth. The archdiocesan commission focuses on prayer, social justice and other ecumenical projects with Lutheran leaders.

According to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Survey, 20 percent of Minnesotans are Lutheran and 22 percent are Catholic.

Deacon Moses has hope that full unity is possible, if only in heaven.

“A lot of issues over the centuries have been resolved, that’s something to celebrate,” he said. “I believe one day [unity] will happen, if not on earth, but one day it will happen.”

Catholic News Service contributed to this story.

Tags: , , ,

Category: Faith and Culture