Catholics and Lutherans gathered together at Christ the King Seminary on Aug. 15, to continue a dialogue that has shown promise in mending the 500-year rift that has kept the two faiths focusing on their differences, rather than focusing on what they have in common.
Led by Father Peter Drilling and Lutheran pastors Rev. Tim Madsen and Rev. Daniel Hoffman, the trio discussed and shared information regarding the ongoing Lutheran-Roman Catholic cooperative efforts.
The formal dialogue has been in existence for 50 years. Early talks covered basic topics such as baptism and the Nicene Creed. It was found that there was unity already and subsequent dialogues have built on that.
"We started off as strangers and realized how much we really believe together," Rev. Madsen said. "We don't agree on everything, but there is a basis now and a foundation for us to talk and to continue to talk."
In small ways over the years the two churches had been in conversation together, but it was decided that the churches enter into a formal dialogue.
"Not just parish to parish, but the national denomination bodies and the international," Rev. Hoffman said. This involved the Lutheran World Federation along with the Pontifical Institute for Humanism.
In 1999, Lutherans and Catholics together adopted the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification." It states the two faiths share a common understanding of the justification by God's grace and faith in Christ.
That was followed in 2015 by the publication of the "Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist." This unique ecumenical document between Catholics and Lutherans marked a pathway toward greater visible unity.
The visible signs are showing themselves in the Western New York area. In 2017 there was a joint vespers service at Holy Trinity in Buffalo. Rev. Madsen points out that there has been a liturgical renewal in the Lutheran Church due to Vatican II, a unity in the Lectionary used on Sunday mornings and a common text in prayers.
"Many good things have come out if it," he said.
Father Drilling foresees a time the two faiths can come together for Eucharist. "At least on certain occasions," he said. "I see that as on the horizon."
Rev. Madsen thinks the visibility of the churchs' unity gives witness to the world. Looking past 500 years of differences to find their way back to each other again. Future issues will be harder to come into agreement about, but he believes the people in the parishes will drive the conversation forward and keep working on the tougher questions.
"Our parishioners have higher expectations that we work those things out," Rev. Madsen said.
Rev. Hoffman feels the dialogues themselves should fade away so that ecumenical reception can begin. This way the unity will actually start to take root in local parishes and in local congregations.
"So that actual folks in the pews start to come together and see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ," he said.
"We live in a fragmented world," Father Drilling said. By becoming more unified the faiths recognize that they are one, even with their differences.
There will be challenges along the way. Even today the road toward a better union is difficult. Rev. Madsen says people are saying that Lutherans are becoming too Catholic and Catholics are becoming too Protestant.
"That's gotta be good somewhere in the mix," he said.
Rev. Hoffman sees that the more a church exhibits it's unity in a culture that is broken and at odds with one another the better the chances are that we will learn how to talk to each other over the divide.
"I think that is a huge witness for the church to bring to the world," he said.