Blessed Peter Favre

2 August 2006: Wednesday of the 17th Week in Ordinary Time
Memorial of Blessed Peter Favre
from Praying with the First Companions, for private use of Jesuits

We are familiar with religious debates on radio and television conducted not in a single program for purposes of enlightenment but in separate programs hosted by respective leaders of two different churches or religious sects. One pastor would say something derogatory to the pastor of another Christian denomination. If you watch their programs by accident and listened to them, didn’t you get frustrated or even scandalized? Is this really a proclamation of God’s words?

Our saint for today is not familiar to many of us. He is not as popular as St. Francis or Augustine or Dominic. He is Blessed Peter Favre, who is a companion of Sts. Ignatius and Xavier, founders of the Jesuits. The Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, including Peter Favre, lived through what we know today as the age of the Reformation or the birth of Protestantism. At that time, Catholic princes would hunt down and destroy Lutherans, Calvinists and other dissenters and heretics. On the other hand, rulers favoring the Reformers proved adept at persecuting and slaying the Catholics. Statesmen and politicians, intent of removing opponents, were to find it convenient to do so in the name of religion, often came to persuade themselves that by such deeds of violence they were doing service to God.

When Pope Paul III sent Peter Favre to Germany in 1540, he had him attend the conferences that Catholic Emperor Charles V was conducting with Protestant leaders. The first of these conferences or “diets” was held at Worms. A second was held in the following year at Regensburg, formerly Ratisbon. The Emperor had the idea that discussions would be sufficient to bring back the Protestants who were attracting more and more followers through erroneous preaching and political pressures. But Favre was an ecumenist born four centuries early. An ecumenist is a new term describing someone who longs to restore the unity among Christians. He was a humanist who pleaded for calm instead of fury, conciliation instead of condemnation, and concentration on moral reform rather than on theological controversy. In other words, Peter Faver was saying, what Pope John XXIII said in 1960: “Stress what brings men together, not what divides them.” Before the 16th century, the Church preached to pagans with the policy that we have to bring them first to belief, and afterwards, a moral life. But Faver taught after post-Rennaissance Europe, that the correct procedure is the reform of the clergy and the faithful, both individual and collective. And then being renewed and purified, she might endeavor to win back by example and kindness the faithful who have left the fold. This is Favre’s words:

  1. Remember that if we want to be of help to them, we must be careful to regard them with love, to love them in deed and in truth, and to banish from our own souls any thought that might lessen our love and esteem for them.
  2. We have to win their good will so they will love us and readily confide in us by speaking familiarly on subjects about which we agree, and by avoiding points of discussion that might give rise to arguments... neither should we act towards them as though they were pagans, but rather to address ourselves to a person’s will, to their heart, as a means of approaching with prudence matters of faith.
  3. In preaching, avoid referring to the differences between Protestants and Catholics. Content yourselves with getting people to foster virtues, stir them so that they come to a true knowledge of themselves and increase in the knowledge and love of God our Lord.

Today, the door is wide open to dialogues between the Christian churches. The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call by the Holy Spirit, as articulated by the Decree on Ecumenism, in Vatican II in 1965. So, we ask ourselves. Recall times when you were in disagreement on religious issues with co-workers, fellow students, members of the family. How did you behave in such situations? When in the company of someone of a different religion, how do you feel towards them? When in the company of someone who does not practice Catholicism as piously as you, do you harbor thoughts that lessen your love and esteem for them or do you thank the Lord that you are far better than them? When you do, perhaps, Blessed Peter Favre might offer a great help.

1 comment:

evelyn said...

I searched the internet for "decree of ecumenism". I got several hits but did not get a copy of the document itself. I would like very much to read it. I live with and have several close friends who are Born Again Christians, and would be greatful if I could be guided by what the Church has said on our relationship with them. Right now, we don't talk about faith to avoid disagreements.