Monday, February 29, 2016

Deeper Conversion to Christ—Ecumenical Lenten Reflections

By Father John Crossin

Progress in spiritual ecumenism is deeply dependent on inner conversion. The problem for us is that our culture is achievement oriented. When we apply for a position, for example, we send our list of achievements in the hope that we will be interviewed for the job.

Busyness is an acceptable excuse for not looking inward. If we read St. Francis de Sales, however, we soon see that he encourages both contemplation and action. He thinks there is a balance and a positive relationship between these two phases of Christian life. Both need to be nourished each day.

We need to take some quiet time each day for God. It is in this inner time that we can become conscious of the obstacles to our deeper conversion to Christ. Here we can identify our outer and inner obstacles.

For example, we may have too much ‘stuff.’ We spend excessive time getting material things and taking care of them. Similarly, we may want to know too much. So we spend too much time watching cable TV or on the internet or using social media.

It may be best to establish our prayer and work times first and then let our ‘news or things time’ fit in as they can. We probably won’t miss much. Most important news will be repeated tomorrow; there will be other sales.

The virtue here is simplicity. Can we live simply enough to allow time to hear the Spirit speaking to us through inner inspirations or the word and example of others? Can we sense the inner peace/joy that the Spirit brings? Can we carry this peace with us into the tasks of the day?

Deeper conversion to Christ will bring us closer to one another and to Christian unity.


Father John Crossin, OSFS is executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He tweets @crossinusccb.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Christian Churches Together Shows the Power of People of Faith Seeking a Better World Together

By Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski

It was with much joy that I was able to attend the 10th anniversary convocation of Christian Churches Together, the most inclusive ecumenical body in the United States, last week in Arlington, Virginia. CCT was first conceived of in 2001, officially announced until 2002 and held its first meeting in 2006. One of the many gifts of CCT is to be able to pray, reflect and discuss the important issues of our time that unite us in the Christian Faith. Chief concerns of this meeting were racism in the United States, immigration and the plight of our fellow Christians in the Middle East.

Anti-apartheid leader Allan Boesak addressed our group relying on his own experiences in South Africa and speaking of how much uniting ourselves in compassion with one another is crucial to making inroads against racism. In an impassioned talk, Allan Boesak talked of the importance of coming together to honestly address the harm that racism brings not only to the oppressed, but to the oppressor as well.

We also heard about the issue of global poverty and hunger from Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, who informed us that there are currently 52 different wars and insurrections occurring in our world today resulting in 60 million persons being displaced from their homeland. These startling statistics have to provoke Christians everywhere to action, especially to those who are fleeing persecution and sectarian violence.

To look upon the issues of racism, global poverty, immigration and the plight of our fellow Christians who are being persecuted with the eyes of faith gives us great hope that, despite so many obstacles, we can unite in addressing these issues through Christ Jesus.

As CCT celebrates the past ten years of achievement through mutuality and friendship, I look forward to the coming years and all the promise of Christians working together. It is a privilege to share in such a stimulating meeting with fellow Christian leaders who are not afraid of the difficult topics that need the healing presence of Jesus Christ.


Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, is chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Prayer and Listening: Lenten Reflections on Spiritual Ecumenism

We are all called to pray. Spiritual ecumenism would call us to pray every day for Christian Unity. An ideal prayer in this regard is the Our Father. This prayer that Jesus taught his disciples reminds us that we are to hallow God’s name, follow His will for us, seek and give forgiveness, avoid temptation and put our trust in the Father and not in our plans. 
As we pray we might listen for the Father to speak to us. Sometimes our divergences from other Christians seem insuperable or intractable. Then it is clear that we must listen most intently.
On the Mount of Transfiguration our Father told the disciples to listen to Jesus. Thus we need to go back to the Scriptures and ponder His words. We count on Jesus promise that the Holy Spirit will guide us.
What keeps us from listening? One of my favorite obstacles is ‘having too much to do.’ USCCB keeps me busy. But the truth often is that I seem to have more time after I take time to pray. 
I realize I have some internal obstacles as well—such as letting go of past hurts or asking forgiveness of my sins. I also encounter external obstacles such as my own (or others) prejudices and denial of obvious truths I (we) don’t want to deal with. Another favorite of mine is wanting God to follow my plan. 
I often need to acknowledge these obstacles and ‘pray my way through’ them.
Listening to the inspirations of the Spirit can be transformative. I once felt the strong inner movement of the Spirit as I sang the opening hymn of mass—in a gym. Sometimes I hear the Spirit speak to me through conversation with others. Many times the speakers have been Christian colleagues.  
Daily prayer for Christian unity can be full of unexpected and lasting inspirations.
Father John Crossin, OSFS is executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He tweets @crossinusccb.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Giving Everything to God: Ecumenical Reflections

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

We are entering a new phase of the ecumenical journey. Pope Francis visited with the Russian Patriarch Kirill in Cuba and will commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation with the Lutheran World Federation in Lund, Sweden. A new vision of ecumenism is emerging rooted in the Gospel.

“Again and again we can and must allow ourselves to be surprised by God and his Spirit,” reflected Cardinal Walter Kasper at Georgetown University last May. As Saint John Paul II emphasized in his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint, spiritual ecumenism with its emphasis on ongoing conversion is at the heart of the ecumenical journey.

Many years ago, on a sunny spring day at our (even then) old novitiate house, I realized that the spiritual journey was about giving everything to God—even every thought. I must confess that this was somewhat consoling and somewhat frightening. The direction was clear; the path was and still is intimidating.

Years later I would tell people that I gave 90% to God and kept 10% for Crossin. People would laugh in recognition. Often Crossin’s percentage was higher and God’s lower! I tend to focus too much on myself and not enough on others.

Decades later, returning to the teaching of St. Francis de Sales that sparked my initial realization, I began to see that spiritual growth has to do with balance. It has to do with loving good things in the right proportion. Material goods don’t usually come first though they are important. Paying attention to Christ in the present moment in the people I meet and what they say/do is more important.

I have met people who radiate Christ’s presence. When I am with them I share their peace. I hope someday to bring that balance to the ecumenical journey.


Father John Crossin, OSFS is executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He tweets @crossinusccb.​

Monday, February 8, 2016

That they may worship

By Aaron Matthew Weldon

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, and say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.’ ” It’s one of the memorable refrains from one of the greatest stories of liberation in the history - the Exodus of Israel. Moses persistently tells Pharaoh what God demands for the nation enslaved in Egypt, and Pharaoh consistently responds with a hard heart. It’s an amazing, familiar story. Yet we often overlook the reason Moses gives for his demand.

“That they may worship me.” Liberation is bound up with worshipping God and obeying his commandments. Today, the issue is often framed as if people of faith merely want to be left alone. That’s only one side of the matter. People of faith – Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and others – are seeking the space to live out their faith, to serve God according to the dictates of their respective traditions.

It’s easy for those of us who care about religious freedom to focus primarily on laws, lawsuits, and government mandates. We rightly want to challenge infringements on religious liberty. But we need to keep in mind that our aim, as people of faith, is not merely the space to live faithfully. The goal is also the actual living out of faith. We are not merely seeking freedom from coercion but freedom for serving God and others. To live out our faith in daily life, we need to be people of prayer.

Lent is the perfect time to recalibrate our prayer lives. Beginning with Ash Wednesday on February 10, the Church devotes 40 days – in part, an echo of Israel’s 40-year sojourn in the desert and Moses’ 40-day stay on Mount Sinai – to focus on interior renewal. Our civic lives must flow from our prayer lives. As we prepare for Easter, we do well to attend to prayer, to listen to the Lord who speaks to our hearts.

A focus on interior renewal is good for its own sake. It also helps promote religious freedom. This most basic freedom for all people requires a culture of prayer, a culture where communities of faith seek to fulfill obligations and respect the rights of others to fulfill their own obligations. This is the kind of culture where the pursuit of holiness and connection with God are understandable. Our current cultural climate presents a challenge. A widespread therapeutic spirituality says that as long as you feel good and do good, everything is fine. Rather than tolerance, we end up with religious indifference. Spiritual renewal in our culture begins with us. Simply being people of prayer helps builds a culture of prayer.

The Church shows us ways that we can grow into people of prayer. The U.S. bishops provide reflections and suggested practices for Lent, as well as the helpful resource, Sacraments and Social Mission, for Catholics seeking to make the connection between service to God and service to neighbor. A great way to integrate advocacy for the common good and attention to prayer is by joining the Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty. In the face of serious challenges, the Lord calls us to sacrifice and pray.


Aaron Matthew Weldon is Program Specialist for the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Learn more about the U.S. bishops' religious liberty efforts at

Follow the USCCB's religious freedom efforts on Twitter: @usccbfreedom

Bishop Monforton On How You Can Make A Difference On Ash Wednesday

By Anusia Dickow

[Let us] never tire of opening our hearts and offering a hand to all who ask us for help.

~Pope Francis, Address to Priests and Religious, Bosnia and Herzegovina, June 2015

This week, as we begin our Lenten journey, we remember our brothers and sisters who live in Central and Eastern Europe who struggle to rebuild both churches and faith communities in a post-communist society. Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton of the Diocese of Steubenville serves on the Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, and recently traveled with USCCB staff to Belarus and Poland.

In Belarus he visited with faith communities in Minsk, and with seminarians in Pinsk and Grodno, speaking with those who benefit from the grants received from the Subcommittee. In Poland, Bishop Monforton traveled to Krakow to visit with priests and others in the diocese who help coordinate pastoral programs.

Click here to hear Bishop Monforton speak about his travels, the challenges this region of the world faces, but also the great hope that can be found in this region. Despite the history of hardship, those who live there have deep faith and, as Bishop Monforton reminds us, there is much we can do here in the United States to support our brothers and sisters.

On Ash Wednesday, many parishes in the United States will be taking up the Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe. Contributions to this collection fund grants for projects in 28 countries to both rebuild the religious institutions, and also to bolster the faith of those who live there. This collection is an opportunity for us to begin Lent with an act of mercy and solidarity with those who live in this region of the world.

If you would like more information about the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, please visit: Click here for additional resources and information about the collection.