New Swedish cardinal says inter-communion with Lutherans 'not possible'

New Swedish cardinal says inter-communion with Lutherans ‘not possible’

New Swedish cardinal says inter-communion with Lutherans ‘not possible’

Pope Francis, right, meets the President of the Lutheran World Federation Bishop Munib Younan during an ecumenical prayer in the Lund Lutheran cathedral, Sweden, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. (Credit: L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP.)

Although newly minted Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Sweden is a convert from Lutheranism and believes in the press for closer ties with the Lutheran church, he's also realistic about the present limits of that quest, saying that given different understandings of the real presence in the Eucharist, right now Lutherans and Catholics "cannot possibly celebrate together."

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Although Pope Francis may have had outreach to the churches of the Reformation in mind when he named Bishop Anders Arborelius a cardinal, since the Swedish prelate leads a small Catholic church in an officially Lutheran country, Arborelius himself isn’t quite there yet on at least one vexed issue: Inter-communion.

“Many in the Lutheran Church now say, ‘We have come to an agreement, now we must celebrate the Eucharist together’,” Arborelius said recently, referring to a 1999 joint agreement between the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation on the doctrine of justification.

“We have to say, ‘No, we haven’t come so far in our mutual dialogue,’ and, of course, this will create a kind of frustration among many of the Lutherans that we cannot possibly celebrate together,” he said.

Arborelius and I sat together in his office in Götgatan Street on the Southern Isle of Stockholm on June 12, two weeks prior to his being made a cardinal by Pope Francis in Rome on June 28.

The following are extracts of that conversation.

PICAZO: We know that Sister Lucia of Fatima wrote a letter to Cardinal [Carlo] Caffarra explaining that one of the final battles of the devil in the world would be against the family and matrimony. We live through times of great confusion …

ARBORELIUS: Because man was made in the image of God, if we do not believe in God, somehow it is very difficult to know what the human being is. And “Who am I” is something that we often hear. Am I a woman, am I a man or something else?

So, when we lose God we also lose our real humanity, and I think some people are starting to discover that when there is no God everything is possible: the notion of man, of woman, can be manipulated, and man can be made into something totally different. But at the same time, there is a longing for real humanity.

When I speak to young people, so many say, ‘We want to have a family, we want to be able to stay forever together.’ Young people have lost their psychological ability to do so. Many wonderful young people host these good desires, but somehow they don’t get the support that enables them to live a life-long union with another person.

That is one of the main challenges for church and the humanity as such, that we have to rediscover God in order to rediscover what the human nature is.

If we don’t realize that we are made in the image of God, well, we are made then in the image of…, consumerism, hedonism, other animals? In Sweden, many people think that animals and human beings have the same value.

How will being made a cardinal influence your mission and the church in Sweden?

I believe that something started in me when I became a Catholic, when I became a Carmelite, a bishop and now a cardinal. I thought that I would live a hidden life of prayer as a Carmelite, as Therese of Lisieux did through her hidden life of prayer: I gave my life for the Lord as a sign of my love for the Church.

I used to say that in the convent I tried to do the will of God, now as a bishop I have to do that and as a cardinal even more. I have to do the will of God and try to really make Jesus known, loved and adored. It is more and more a kind of active apostolate.

As a bishop first, and now as a cardinal, there are more possibilities to reach out to people. I don’t know how much and in what nature, but still I think that the Lord will help me to do so, to find the right words.

As a convert, do you feel the drive of a Cardinal Newman and an Edith Stein – a Carmelite like you – having left an old faith that did not fill up your expectations for the Truth?

In my youth, I always felt that I had a faith in God and in Christ, but somehow I was never totally in tune with the Lutheran church, I was never very active. I had contacts with Catholics, one example being the Sisters of St. Brigid.

I gradually entered into the faith. I wanted to be sure that this is the Truth, this is what I want to live for and die for. I believe the main thing is that a convert comes to the conclusion that, “this is the Truth, this is what God has offered Himself to the World for,” and it is valid for all, not only for me but for all cultures, for all ages.

I know that this is something that will follow me during my entire life. I know I want to enter even deeper into this personal relationship with God and his Church, and that I want to serve this God and this Church.

There is an obstacle [between Lutherans and Catholics] in understanding the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist, together with the different understanding of the sacraments. Do you think it will be overcome?

Among people in the Lutheran Church, there are different visions on the Eucharist. Some members are very close to us, and that is very typical in our relationship with the Lutheran Church, while others have a very different outlook. That’s so because there is not a unity of faith within the Church of Sweden as a Lutheran Church. Maybe this is one of the major difficulties, to know what the position of the Lutheran church is as such.

Officially we know that Luther accepted the real presence in the Eucharist in actu, during the celebration only, but not after the Mass, and that is a great difficulty of course.

Many in the Lutheran Church now say, ‘We have come to an agreement, now we must celebrate the Eucharist together.’ Whereas we have to say ‘No, we haven’t come so far in our mutual dialogue,’ and, of course, this will create a kind of frustration among many of the Lutherans that we cannot possibly celebrate together.

On the differences in the doctrine of justification, how should we think about them?

This is a very, very important question. We know that the mystery of grace is an old and overwhelming mystery, and we see the result of total grace in Our Lady. We know that we are weak and sinful people, and need the pardon and grace of God in order to grow and be co-redeemers with Christ. That means that we have to convert to the Lord more every day, in order to live by the mystery of Grace.

I think that Therese of Lisieux has helped us to take this as a joyful way. It is not only that we fight against our weaknesses but that we receive more and more grace of the Lord in order to come closer to Him and be able to help him carry the cross.

In the classical Lutheran faith, we are incapable of doing anything [because] sin has destroyed human nature. We don’t think this way, because we believe that the Lord is merciful, and he is at the same time at work cleansing us, making us more purified, helping us grow in his love. It is through this gift of grace we can help Him save the world and we are not passive objects in the game, but we are really coworkers in the work of salvation of the world.

I think too this is the reason why the personality of Mary is so important in order to give us hope. She as our Mother, and our Sister as we say in the Carmel [devotion], encourages us, she helps us to see that we, too, may help the Lord in His work of Redemption. I think that in the ecumenical dialogue it is very important to stress the position of Our Lady as a sign of hope for us human beings. The Lord wants us to follow her more and more in order to come closer to Him.

Reading Laudato Si’, we can learn to ask the Lord how we can put to good use the resources He has given us. These include all things related to sexuality, which in the Church is accompanied by a transcendental and moral anthropology, which may help us live a spiritual poverty of people who are not owners of the gifts given by God. I believe some issues around these topics are also an obstacle for the communion between the two faiths?

Yes, you are right, there are what we call ethical differences that have become very, very difficult matters, also within the Lutheran Church. We have to remember that there are many people that cannot accept abortion, same-sex marriages and all these matters.

It is important to realize that there are people out there who have the same opinion as we have, but officially the synod in the Lutheran Church recently agreed to same-sex marriages. This has become a tricky thing, because many of the pastors do not want to perform those kinds of marriages. Of course, in ecumenical dialogue this is a very difficult issue.

Jordi Picazo is a Spanish philologist and journalist.

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