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Vol 39 No 1

God does care!

Charles Hill

Richard Colledge

Joseph Grayland

Cardinal Idris Edward Cassidy

Paul Babie

Elaine Wainwright RSM


Kevin Mark


Catholic devotion and the unity of Christians


THE SECOND VATICAN Council was convoked by Pope John XXIII to offer the bishops of the Church from all over the world the possibility of listening together, as a College in Apostolic Tradition gathered around the Successor of Peter, to what the Holy Spirit was saying to the Church in the middle of the twentieth century.

Pope John came to the Papal throne after more than fifty years of priesthood, enriched by the experience of serving the Church in various parts of the world, crowned with the leadership of the Patriarchate of Venice. He was convinced that the time had come for the Church to take a good look at itself and bring up to date, as it were (aggiornamento), its role in the modern world. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, over a period of four years, the Council brought about a radical change in many aspects of the Church’s life, a great renewal in its own self-understanding, in its liturgy, in the relationship of the members of the Church one to another, and in the Catholic Church’s attitude to other Christians, to other religions, to the Jewish people and to the world.

The period since the Council—some forty years—has been a time of reception of the Council’s decisions. This vital task is far from complete. Considerable progress has been made, but more has still to be done. The Church is in the midst of constructing an edifice for this new millennium, a building to be home to one billion Catholics spread throughout the world and gathered together in thousands of local churches, each with its own history, tradition, culture, development and experience. Yet, there is only one Church of Christ, with one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

The necessary task of reception is therefore a difficult one, and the story of that reception over the past forty years has consequently been at times troubled. Some local communities were excited by the Council’s teaching and tended to take things too far, arriving at situations never intended by the Council. Others found it hard to let go of the past, even in minor details. The Council Fathers had called for renewal, but not reformation, for the middle way between hanging on to the past and totally abandoning that past.

An example of this concerns our reflections this-evening. The liturgy provides the Church with its very lifeblood. The Council wished to involve the people of God more deeply in the celebration of this great act of worship. They rightly saw the Mass as the very centre of the Church’s worship and the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist as the centre of the individual’s prayer life. It was never the Council’s intention to make the Mass the only means of worship, but in fact little by little devotions that were very dear to Catholics throughout the world no longer found a place in public worship. You will all recall many such examples.

I hope that you will allow me at this stage a short personal interlude. In the early years of the Second World War we had moved to Randwick from Bankstown in Western Sydney, where we lived quite some distance from St. Felix’s Parish Church. At last I was able to attend Mass daily at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church in Randwick and to join in Sunday evening devotions. This was a vital period for the development of my priestly vocation, and I remain deeply grateful to Father Power, Father Dando and other MSC fathers at Randwick, and then after another move to Coogee, to Father Perkins for all they did to help me fulfil my desire to enter the priesthood. A day of retreat here in this Monastery in 1941, conducted by Dr. Rumble, had a special influence on that vocation. For these reasons, I am delighted to have this opportunity of being here with you all this-evening on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.

For all too many Catholics, after the Council it seemed that such devotions as I enjoyed each Sunday evening at Randwick were no longer part of the life of their Church. Sunday evening Mass left no place for Benediction. The Rosary disappeared from many homes, and traditional popular devotion was looked upon as somewhat spiritually unhealthy. There were of course aspects of Catholic devotion that needed to be reformed: the recitation of the rosary during Mass, and the appeal to Mary and the saints as if they were able themselves to actually grant our requests, rather than intercede for us. (There are many stories that illustrate such devotion). Yet none of this was at all intended by the Council or by the subsequent official liturgical reforms. The Council was anxious rather to direct Catholic devotion first and foremost to a richer and deeper participation of the faithful in the official liturgical life of the Church. It was not condemning or denying the great value of other traditional Catholic devotions.

The Second Vatican Council, as I am sure you all know, brought the Catholic Church into the search for greater unity among those who believe in Christ and are baptized into the one body of Christ. This commitment also has brought popular Catholic devotion into new discussion and danger. While Catholics, Orthodox and most Anglicans do not have any serious difference of approach to devotion to Mary and the saints (Marian dogmas are of course not accepted), Churches coming out of the Reformation reacted strongly to the devotional practices of Catholics at the time of the Reformation. Churches were cleared of statues and any idea of intercession by Mary and the saints was outlawed.

Even after forty years of ecumenical dialogue there remain deep differences between Catholics and Reformed Christians on this question. Some progress has been made with regard to the place of Mary in the Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council’s presentation of Mary as ‘a pre-eminent member and altogether singular member of the Church, and as the Church’s model and excellent exemplar in faith and charity’ (LG, 53), together with Pope John Paul’s description of Mary in his Encyclical Letter on Commitment to Ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint: as ‘Mother of God and Icon of the Church, the spiritual Mother who intercedes for Christ’s disciples and for all humanity’ (UUS, 79). The Reformed reaction was to some degree the result of over-emphasis on popular devotion seen as taking people away from their complete dependence on the saving power of Jesus Christ. The only Saviour was Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and his people was Jesus Christ, salvation could be obtained only through faith in Jesus Christ.

The sad fact is that the Catholic Church never denied this. Members of the Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation, however, by over-emphasizing, and at times greatly exaggerating, popular devotional practices and good works certainly gave the impression that Christ was not all-important on the way to salvation, and that to a certain degree salvation could be attained as merit for what one might do or offer.

It is interesting to see today among members of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary, based in England, not only Catholic and Anglicans but also members of the Methodist Church. Catholics and Lutherans in the United States have succeeded in publishing an agreed statement on devotion to Mary and the Saints. A study on this same topic is due to be published by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Dialogue Commission very soon.

It is not my intention this evening to deal with ecumenical dialogues, but I think it very pertinent to refer here to the Joint Declaration between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation which was signed in Augsburg, Germany, on 31st October1999 – we are about to celebrate the fifth anniversary of this historic agreement. While it deals directly with the question of faith and good works, it shows how too great an emphasis on one aspect or the other of a particular doctrine can create divisions within the Christian community that appear to be irreconcilable, while in fact both parties have the same fundamental faith understanding. Differences may in fact not be Church-dividing and should not therefore be the cause of division. As our Holy Father has stated many times, unity is not uniformity, and Christianity can be enriched by diversity, provided that such diversity exists within the one faith.

The Holy Father speaks of the ecumenical journey as requiring patient and courageous efforts, and then makes what I believe to be an important statement that has still to be widely received in the various dialogues. He speaks of the journey towards necessary and sufficient visible unity, in the communion of the one Church willed by Christ. In this journey, therefore, ‘one must not impose any burden beyond that which is necessary (Cf. Acts 15:28)’. We are not involved in a search for uniformity of doctrinal expression, but in a quest for unity in faith. The late Rev. Max Thurian, speaking on Vatican Radio made the following comment on this particular point:
Today it is necessary for us to deepen together ever more fully the faith that we have in common. One delightful aspect of the encyclical is when the Pope stresses that we must seek only what is necessary and sufficient to bring about unity…there is no question of some coming out winners and others as losers.

Pope John Paul II reminds us once again—and I regret to state that such a reminder is even today necessary for some Catholic theologians—of the distinction recommended by Pope John XXIII in his opening address to the Catholic Bishops gathered in the Second Vatican Council, between the deposit of faith and the formulation in which it is expressed. This distinction, writes Pope John Paul II ‘will be of great help methodologically’ in examining the results of the theological dialogues and in carrying forward, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the process of reconciliation.

At the source of the Reformation arguments on devotions, indulgences and Mary’s special place in the Church was the relationship of faith and good works. The official teaching of the Catholic Church never taught that a person could gain heaven through good works without faith. Luther never taught that it was enough simply to believe: believe and then sin as much as you like! So after years of dialogue Catholic and Lutheran representatives were able in 1999 to declare:

By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works (N. 15).

Let us turn now to the devotion that most interests us this-evening, namely devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I would point out at once that such devotion, unlike devotion to Mary and the saints, is less a problem for other Christians, since it is directed to Christ himself, the Head of the Mystical Body and not to a member of that body. It takes nothing away from Christ, but rather emphasizes the unique role of Christ in justifying and saving sinners. Those not belonging to our Church may not approve the statues or images that are part of this devotion, but the devotion itself would not be, I think, a great problem for them.

But I wish this evening to suggest that devotion to the Sacred Heart can and should have an important place in our on-going efforts to promote the greater unity of Christians. This unity is greatly desired by Jesus who prayed for it the night before he died. It is particularly close to his heart, for this unity, which reflects the unity of the Most Holy Trinity, was his gift to the Church he founded.
This unity has not been lost, but it is impaired, deeply wounded. It cannot be restored without the help of Jesus. Our appeals for that grace can surely be directed with hope to his Sacred Heart. A similar thought is expressed by Pope John Paul II in the Exhortation at the end of his Encyclical Letter on Ecumenism Ut Unum Sint. He writes:

There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit is active in this endeavour and that he is leading the Church to the full realization of the Father’s plan, in conformity with the will of Christ. This will is expressed with heartfelt urgency in the prayer which, according to the fourth Gospel, Jesus uttered at the moment when he entered upon the saving mystery of his Passover. Just as he did then, today too Christ calls everyone to renew their commitment to work for full and visible communion (N° 102).

To the question, ‘How is the Church to obtain this grace? Pope John Paul II sets out a programme consisting of:

• in the first place prayer;
• accompanied by thanksgiving;
• and strong hope in the Spirit, who can banish from us the painful memories of our separation.

He then makes a final appeal, firstly to the faithful of the Catholic Church, and then to ‘you, my brothers and sisters of other Churches and Ecclesial Communions’: ‘Mend your ways, encourage one another, live in harmony, and the God of love and peace be with you’ (2 Cor 13: 11). With these words, Pope John Paul II recalls the well-known words of the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council:

There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion. For it is from newness of attitudes of mind, from self-denial and unstinted love, that desires of unity rise and develop in a mature way. (UR, 7)

There can be no compromise with truth in matters of faith, and for this reason serious theological dialogue is indispensable in the work for Christian unity. Cooperation in humanitarian and other works also has an important role to play, for as Pope John Paul II has written, cooperation among Christians is a kind of school of ecumenism. But as has already been mentioned, unity is not a human task but a gift of God’s Spirit. At this time it would seem that Spiritual ecumenism must take pride of place in the quest for unity. Spiritual ecumenism means sharing in spiritual initiatives: in prayer together, in reading the bible together, in exchanging spiritual experiences, in learning to forgive and purify memories. In other words it is an ecumenism of life, by means of which the fruits of dialogue are translated into the real lives of the members of the various Christian communities. Only in fraternal love that excludes rivalry and competition and is truly an exchange of gifts, can the churches overcome the serious difficulties that continue to delay progress.

Pope John Paul II has made it clear that prayer has priority among the means needed to restore unity. He writes in Ut Unum Sint: ‘Along the ecumenical path to unity, pride of place certainly belongs to prayer in common. … If Christians, despite their divisions, can grow ever more united in common prayer around Christ, they will grow in the awareness of how little divides them in comparison to what unites them’. The Holy Father also teaches that ‘in the fellowship of prayer Christ is truly present; he prays ‘in us’, ‘with us’ and ‘for us’. It is he who leads our prayer in the Spirit-Consoler whom he promised and then bestowed on his Church in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, when he established her in her original unity’ (N° 22). And of course this is something that each and every member of the Church can join in effectively. Not only can each of the Church’s members avail themselves of this invaluable instrument in promoting the unity of Christians, the Church expects them to do so.

Pope John Paul II leaves us in no doubt about this when he writes in his Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint on Commitment to Ecumenism:

This unity, which the Lord has bestowed on his Church, and in which he wishes to embrace all people, is not something added on, but stands at the very heart of Christ’s mission. Nor is it some secondary attribute of the community of his disciples. Rather, it belongs to the very essence of this community. God wills the Church, because he wills unity, and unity is an expression of the whole depth of his agape ( N° 9).

The Second Vatican Council stated that concern for restoring unity was to be considered a task for all the members of the Church, according to the ability of each (UR 5), and Pope John Paul II comes to the following conclusion, in a statement that is of great importance for the future activity of the Catholic Church:

Thus it is absolutely clear that ecumenism [...] is not just some sort of ‘appendix’ which is added to the Church’s traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all that she is and does; it must be like the fruit borne by a healthy and flourishing tree which grows to its full stature (N° 20).

I urge you all then to think about this and take very much to heart something that is so close to the heart of our Holy Father and to the heart of Jesus. Over the past 150 years Missionaries of the Sacred Heart have laboured in every part of the world to bring people to Christ and Christ to people. Their mission continues today and I would like to suggest that this mission should now include as a priority the promotion of the deeper unity of those already Christian. Remember the opening words of the Second Vatican Council decree on Ecumenism:

Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature. (UR, 1).

Cardinal Cassidy was a long-time member of the Vatican diplomatic service, then President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Head of the Vatican commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.


Idris Edward Cardinal Cassidy was born in Sydney in 1924 and ordained a priest for the diocese of Wagga Wagga in 1949. During post-graduate studies in Rome he was invited to join the diplomatic service of the Vatican, and served in eight countries and four continents before being called to Rome by Pope John Paul II to be at first Under-Secretary in the Vatican Secretariat of State, and then President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Head of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. He was ordained a bishop in 1970 and made a Cardinal in 1991. On his retirement in March 2001, he returned to Australia and is now resident in Warabrook, a suburb of Newcastle. He has been honoured for his work in Christian Unity and Jewish-Christian relations with Honorary degrees from several Universities and given decorations by a number of Governments. He is a member of the Order of Australia.