Gabriel Daly OSA
Good morning. Thank you for the welcome you have given me. I must thank Fr Hughes for inviting me to say a few words about the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther and the the Protestant Reformation. Some Catholics say that we are ‘marking’ the anniversary; I prefer to say ‘celebrating’. The church badly needed to be reformed, and Martin Luther did us all a favour in having the courage to risk his life in the profession of Christian values
Luther was an Augustinian theologian whom I like to think of as ‘Brother Martin’ who suffered intensely from the feeling that he could never please God by anything he did. He multiplied his prayers and penances, but he remained in despair. He once cried out “who will give me a merciful God?” Reading St Paul’s Letter to the Romans he became convinced that it is faith, not works that make us pleasing to God. We don’t do good deeds to win God’s favour; we do good works because grace has made us pleasing to God.
Suddenly his mental torment left him and he found peace with God. He looked at the church around him and saw that it was full of superstitions like the buying and selling of indulgences, cheap ways of getting into heaven- the exact opposite of his new convictions. Only the protection of some of the German princes saved him from serious punishment, including death, by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. He was excommunicated by Pope Leo X, who was a renaissance prince rather than a spiritual leader.
I am sometimes accused of being a Protestant! The same thing was said about the reformers at Vatican II. So I’m in good company. We have a divided church as a result of the Reformation, but great progress is being made in ecumenical dialogue to bring us together again. There have to be changes if unity is to come. We have much to learn from each other. The days when the Catholic Church thought it had all the answers and all Christian truth are long gone. All Christians, Protestant and Catholic, are totally dependent on the action of the Holy Spirit.
500 hundred years ago the move to reform the church resulted in a tragic division of Christians which lasted until the early 20th century, when some Protestant missionaries pointed out that their divisions were damaging the message they were trying to bring to the people they were evangelising. This realisation led to the beginning of the movement for Christian unity. Catholics were forbidden to join the movement until the reforms of the Second Vatican Council made it possible to join Protestants in the quest for Christian unity. That quest is very recent and it is up to us to give it our caring support.
Why not visit a Protestant or Anglican church and take part in a service? It is only 50 years ago that our church has allowed us to do it. Let’s remember those 450 years that were filled with enmity, lack of understanding and unconcern for the unity which Christ wished for his one church. Let’s remember all our brothers and sisters in Christ, Protestant and Catholic, instead of focusing on our own church exclusively.