500 Years and Counting: Reforming the Church Towards Truth and Justice

This week, the world commemorates the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of 95 theses on the wall of his local parish in Germany. While Luther intended to speak out against problematic Church policies and corrupt practices, Pope Francis joined Reverend Martin Junge of the Lutheran World Federation last year to suggest that the moment for reconciliation is ripe:

We have the opportunity to mend a critical moment of our history by moving beyond the controversies and disagreements that have often prevented us from understanding one another.

This opportunity for healing is prophetic amidst national and international divisions, conflict, and controversies. One way this is occurring is through the many celebrations happening across the United States. For example, America Magazine highlights a prayer service in Marlborough, Massachusetts, in which members of three religious congregations renewed baptismal vows as a sign of common faith in the Trinity. Jesuit colleges and universities across the country, too, are celebrating and remembering the Reformation. Seattle University, for example, held a worship service and tree planting service last week.

As we move forward into the next five hundred years of Christianity, theologian Stanley Hauerwas argues that Protestantism is still relevant to the Catholic Church today: despite watching many of his students convert to Catholicism, he “remain[s] a Protestant because I have the conviction that the ongoing change that the church needs means some of us must be Protestant to keep Catholics honest about their claim to the title of the one true Catholic Church. The Reformation may be coming to an end, but reform in the church is never-ending, requiring some to stand outside looking in.”

This message is echoed by Blaise Cardinal Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago who applauded Pope Francis and called Christianity a religion that “never closes in on itself. It always leaves its comfort zone to listen to others, especially those shunted to the margins of society.” Evoking the Protestant Reformation and the Second Vatican Council, Cupich concludes by suggesting that the church must always be reformed.

Jesuit colleges and universities, in the diversity of our departments, our faculty, and students, offer a unique contribution to this constant reform. Faculty educated in subjects across the arts and sciences continue to question societal norms and discern long-lasting truths so as to do the arduous work of church reform. As our colleges focused on the pursuit of truth and justice, may we continue in the spirit of Pope Francis and Martin Junge.

What ways can we collaborate to build congregations, communities, and a society in which we, like Jesus and the first disciples, leave our comfort zones and reach out to the margins? To which interfaith frontiers are we called? How might we be called to think creatively as we embark on the next 500 years?


The cover photo is courtesy of TRiver of the Flickr Creative Commons.