Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 22, 2008
Ecumenical fires warm all people of faith
Unity amongst the faithful lets us follow Christ's will to be one
By FR. THOMAS RYAN, csp
Will we keep each other warm or let each other freeze in isolation?
Some wonder whether the vitality of this movement called ecumenical is visibly waning. One of my colleagues who works on a regional level said to me, “We do not meet anymore as ecumenical colleagues in this area and not for a lack of my trying.
“Pastors are preoccupied with internal affairs, principally the effort to maintain visible unity within their own ecclesial boundaries, and less inclined to acknowledge the significance of things ecumenical or interreligious, or make the time to meet with one another.”
Ecumenical hypothermia? Dropping of the core temperature of the Body of Christ to a dangerous low?
The tripwire for this present cooling of air relates as we know to a series of moral/ethical/theological questions represented by passionate differences over chastity, marriage, homosexuality, pro-life/pro-choice, and who can be ordained. What is at stake below the surface are serious issues of authority, divine revelation, and our understanding of the Church.
These unresolved questions represent a kind of wilderness in which we are out there together in local settings. And the question is: Will we keep each other warm or let each other freeze in isolation?
So much of the public ecumenical life of the churches today revolves around theological considerations that we risk forgetting the role of the personal in the work for unity.
With each year of ecumenical work, I become more and more convinced that no matter how important theological work is for making more visible the unity that is already ours in Christ, the real crux of the work is to deepen the experience of unity on the local level.
That essential unity is already a given in Baptism and not something that needs to be achieved. Rather, it is something that needs to be made more visible for the sake of the Church’s mission in the world. Simply put, our divisions undermine the credibility of the Gospel of reconciliation we preach.
When the Body of Christ has been built up from the bottom by shared prayer and shared life, we will joyfully seize every opportunity to express our unity in Christ.
So a significant measure of my time and energy goes into leading ecumenical parish missions and ecumenical retreats where members of different traditions of Christian faith spend not just an hour together, but several evenings or days together, in prayer and faith-sharing.
For it is communities of believers, at least as much as articles of belief, that need to be reconciled. Love alone makes truth a lived reality and sets us free to make new beginnings.
Within the household of Christian faith, we need each other’s insights to correct deficiencies and imbalances. Any differences in theological priorities, preoccupations and insights will not create fear, because that is how we help one another to pursue the truth.
In the ecumenical exchange, partners share as fully as possible their deepest experiences and values. This approach does not undermine the confessional loyalty of the people concerned, but makes them appreciate the strength of the diverse traditions.
In the process, unsuspected possibilities for mutual enrichment begin to come to life.
At the recent Anglican Lambeth Conference in England, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, said in his address to the Anglican bishops: “People ask me sometimes: ‘Has it been worth it? You’ve given a great deal of your life to this work and yet where are the results?’
“My answer is: ‘Yes it has.’ I believe the path to unity is like a road with no exit . . . because it is Christ’s will that we be one, and however long it takes, that has to be our goal. “We can already notice one result of our work in the changed relationships of these years and the ways we can work together with greater confidence in the faith we share.”
One concrete expression of those “changed relationships” at Lambeth was that the ecumenical representatives were not merely observers, but genuine participants, and invited to take part in the Anglican bishops’ discussion groups as well as in the life of prayer.
When there is a commitment to God and to one another, when we have been keeping each other and Christ’s dream for his Church warm and alive all along the way, when the Body of Christ has been built up from the bottom by shared prayer and shared life, we will joyfully seize every opportunity to express our unity in Christ.(Fr. Thomas Ryan directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relationships in Washington, D.C.)
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