Homily – IVth International Receptive Ecumenism Conference

Monday Evening, 6 November 2017, 5.30pm
Opening Worship

Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn


I am sure that I speak on behalf of all Christian leaders in welcoming you to Canberra for this International Ecumenical Conference.

You are very welcome indeed!

We meet just a few days after international celebrations regarding the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

In this time we have reflected on the supremacy of God’s grace and how even our faith response is a gift from the God of all love and mercy.

We must never marginalise this central truth of Christianity. That it is all God’s initiative. We must never think of God passively sitting back in some celestial home looking at us from afar. Through, with and in Jesus Christ, he actively involves Himself in our thoughts and minds and uses our energies through His Holy Spirit for His greater glory.

It is incredible to think that the great more recent landmark document regarding the Reformation, the Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999), concluded that the theological reasons supporting the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago are now no longer valid. It took us 500 years to get to this point!

So we do come with humility and a sense of needing to be converted at the beginning of this conference too. The Lord’s plea at the Last Supper that they might all be one (John 17/21) is still the prayer of Jesus that is yet to be fulfilled. But we do have an opportunity in our own time and place to make some contribution.

As always the Scripture readings assist us in our ecumenical pilgrimage towards conversion and unity. In the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel, God makes it quite clear of His activity in our midst. It is God’s initiative! It is God who says that He will cleanse us, it is God who says that He will put in us a heart of flesh and take away a heart of stone, it is all God’s work!

In today’s Gospel we have the introductory verses from the famous parable of Jesus of the loving father who had two sons. Again, we see the active and loving merciful initiative of the loving father to reconcile his sons to each other and to him. The father is actively involved!

In the second reading from St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians we now see that the Holy Spirit gives us the spiritual energy to advance towards the works of unity. We are “entrusted” with this Ministry of Reconciliation as well. It is “the love of Christ compelling us” on our journey to unity.

So let us enter our days together in this Receptive Ecumenical Conference knowing that we first of all need to be receptive in listening to God’s initiative in our midst. It is the Holy Spirit who is the principle agent for ecumenical change. This sets up a real attitude in our hearts to be receptive in listening to each other.

Two more recent examples in my own personal life about Receptive Ecumenism come to mind.

Earlier this year in July I was in Rome to attend a plenary council meeting of a Vatican agency of which I am a member. I came a few days early to attend the 50th Anniversary of the Charismatic Renewal hosted by Pope Francis. There was a very big prayer vigil I attended at the Circus Maximus one balmy Saturday evening along with 70,000 others!

I was overjoyed to see how Pope Francis was gathered with so many different Christian leaders, particularly Pentecostal leaders.

It hasn’t been so long ago, even in my own lifetime, when Pentecostals would refer to the Pope in language other than what he is commonly called as the “Holy Father”! But the Holy Spirit is at work! He is turning our hearts to each other. Indeed, during this prayer vigil, it seemed almost as if the Pope was asking the Pentecostal leaders to share with the Catholic Church more about, using the technical theological language, pneumatology. And it seemed that the Pentecostal leaders were in one way or another, again using more technical theological language, asking the Holy Father to teach them more about ecclesiology! What a wonderful world we are in.

And then secondly, about a year ago, I was in Alice Springs, in the centre of Australia, for a gathering with Christian Aboriginal leaders. There were about 100 of us. Over three days we shared four words together and saw these words explained through our own Traditions.

There was a lot of listening, a lot of commonality and many fresh insights. I remember one of the words that we discussed was the word “symbolism”. The Aboriginal theologically trained leader shared what that meant from her perspective, and I, on behalf of the theological Christian leaders, shared what that might mean from our own theological Tradition. After a period of time we then shared what we learnt from each other’s input. It was a deep listening and lovely atmosphere of communion.

So it seems that Receptive Ecumenism, whether it be articulated strongly theologically as it will be over these few days of the conference, or as it’s happening subliminally in more pastoral ways, is a means by which the Holy Spirit is drawing us all together on the long journey towards unity.

Let us start our conference asking for the grace of listening attentively to each other in a spirit of humble conversion. This is what the Lord would surely want. Ultimately it is to fulfil the Lord’s greatest command, “That we love one another as He has first loved us”.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn