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Healing Line

Healing Line

At Last, The Great Healing is Set in Motion

by Francis MacNutt
Summer 2001

Individual healings of cancer and broken bones are great occasion for rejoicing, but we still are saddened by the greater wounds, the larger sickness seen in the brokenness of our society, especially the divisions in Christ's own body, the Church.

We know that Jesus prayed 2,000 years ago (John 17) that we might all be one, but we have grown old in our sin and are no longer surprised by the scandal of Christianity's division. Perhaps we have even contributed to it by considering other Christians as enemies.

But now a spiritual force is moving on a vast scale of reconciliation which requires whole churches to change. This massive reconciliation especially requires the initiative of the largest church, the Roman Catholic church. And this historic healing is happening!

It began at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s when the decree on ecumenism showed a perceptible change of attitude toward Protestants, no longer seen as opponents but as churches where the Spirit is at work. Since that time we have seen much more working together for unity. Commissions have been set up where Lutherans, Anglicans and Pentecostals meet with Roman Catholics to discuss and possibly resolve doctrinal difficulties. These interchanges have moved slowly, but they are very different from the hostile denunciations that characterized our relations in the past.

In our present day, an even more remarkable change is happening: an enormous reconciliation finally seems possible. We need to be aware of it and pray for this great healing among Christians to happen.

How it Must Happen

The first step in reconciliation, as we have all learned in the healing ministry, is to repent of any sin that has led to our broken relationship. The second step is to ask for forgiveness from those we have injured and driven away.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the architects of the reconciliation process in South Africa, said that the South Africans realized that they could not just forget the past and move on, but they had to go through the painful, humiliating process of getting the perpetrators of crimes to ask for· forgiveness and the victims of crimes to give forgiveness.

This process is not just true for individuals but it's also true for entire groups such as nations and churches. Churches are not exempt from this humbling process, and they, above all, should realize this. The Catholic Church, in particular, has strong rules for individual Catholics in the "Sacra;ment of Reconciliation," formerly known as "Confession." As sinners, Catholics are not allowed just to say in a general way, 'Tm sorry for having sinned." When they go to confession, they are required to admit exactly what they did, listing the kind of sin plus the number of times they have committed each sin.

Yet, most nations and churches seem to feel exempt from this process and avoid it. Churches seem to believe that if they ever had to admit that the church had sinned, this admission would tear down its spiritual authority. Since the first step to reconciliation is to repent and confess our sins, it is as if any in–depth move is blocked right from the start by this massive refusal to admit guilt. "Attack the other church's errors and defend your own truth" — this has been the way most churches have operated.

A Seismic Shift

We are seeing the beginnings of a massive, seismic shift opening up hope for a true re.conciliation. Pope John Paul II is taking bold, spiritual steps even while his physical steps are, ironically, becoming more and more faltering. In a remarkable change of a policy that has lasted some 2,000 years, he has been confessing the sins of Church leaders and asking forgiveness! This step may seem like a fairly obvious thing to do, but it is unheard of for popes to apologize.

John Paul II admits that the last millennium of church history has been marked by divisions and warring, but he wants the new millennium to be a fresh start, a thousand years of coming together again, of Christians becoming a sign of unity for the entire human race! The Pope is taking Jesus' prayer for unity (John 17) very seriously. He seems to be hanging onto life to make sure that these first years of the Millennium start off in the right direction so that they cannot be reversed once he is gone.

This encouraging process began with his visit to Auschwitz and his meetings with the Jewish rabbi of Rome and other Christian leaders, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury. To Americans, these may seem like small steps, but in the light of how slowly things usually change, these are gigantic symbolic shifts of attitude. We might think that as he grows older, the Pope would tend to coast, but he believes so strongly in his program that he forges ahead with all the energy he can muster.

In fact, recently, the intensity of his efforts has increased. You may have noticed that, instead of just meeting with other church leaders, he is now moving ahead aggressively and visiting places where he is not altogether welcome. And when he arrives at these traditional sites of conflict, he asks forgiveness for the sins of Catholic leaders in the past.

Last year, for instance, he traveled to Jerusalem, where he visited The Wailing Wall and honored the Jewish custom of placing his personal prayer in a crack in the wall. He also visited the Holocaust Museum, where he prayed to honor the victims of the Holocaust.

This year he traveled to Athens, in spite of the fact that the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, backed by hundreds of monks on Mount Athos, discouraged his coming, calling him a heretic. Once in Athens he expressed his sorrow for the Western Church's responsibility in causing the split with the Christian East — even though the Patriarch refused to pray with him.

The official break between the Eastern (Orthodox) churches and Rome goes back 1000 years to 1054. As a Catholic historian writes: "A delegation of boorish, tactless Westerners from Rome, led by Cardinal Bishop Humbert, excommunicated the patriarch of Constantinople in the patriarch's own city. It was as if the Ayatollah of Iran had marched into Congress and condemned Americans for not practicing democracy. Humbert and his abrasive entourage also declared many Byzantine beliefs to be heretical. The patriarch responded in kind, excommunicating Humbert and his companions ... The East–West schism in the church dates from this event... one Roman Catholic (church), and one Byzantine. The latter would eventually come to be known as the Greek Orthodox Church."*

In the 13th century this disastrous separation was made even worse when the Crusaders marching East from Europe to try to conquer Muslim Jerusalem stopped off in Christian Constantinople. They pillaged, murdered and raped their fellow Christians. They sacked and burned this great city of the ancient world, and the celebrated Shroud ofTurin is probably one of the treasures they "liberated" and sent back home to Italy.

Once you know the history of the Orthodox Church and its many reasons to hate Rome, it is easy to see why they don't want to welcome the Pope. They don't trust Roman Catholics. It's in their bones, just as it is in the bones of the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland to hate each other. So when the Pope visited Athens in May 2001 and apologized, his friendly gesture was unexpected, unprecedented.

Following that Greek visit, the Pope traveled to Damascus, Syria, and it wasn't just to honor Paul's conversion on the Damascus road. Here he took the unprecedented step of crossing the threshold of a mosque to express sorrow over the way Christians have treated Muslims over the past 1,500 years.

The Pope's visit to Damascus, which only rated page four in our local paper, rates a striking page one in any spiritual news of our day. Many people won't have read about the Pope's stepping inside the mosque, or even if they have read about it, they may not sense the profound shaking of the gates of hell.

Thus, the Pope is making gigantic steps toward reconciliation with the Jews, Orthodox churches, Protestants and Muslims.

Heads of nations and churches do not apologize, do not seek forgiveness. But they need to. At last, our religious leaders are beginning to take the steps that are necessary if we Christians are ever to become one.

It is really a mystery — a scandal — that this move to reconcile has not happened for a thousand years, but the great news is that Satan's blockade of hatred and distrust, which has kept us separated and hating one another, is finally being broken. Reconciliation among Christians is the greatest work of healing needed in our age. We need to bring it out from the obscurity of page four, where some see it as merely the friendly gesture of a feeble, aging Pope and see it for what it truly is.

Admittedly, it's only a first step, but like that first shaky step on the moon, it's a "giant step for mankind."

*Anthony Gilles, People of God, the History of Catholic Christianity (St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, OH, 2000), p. 59.


Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Summer 2001 Issue