Ecumenism: “An Imperfect but Certain Communion”

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With the aspiration of Ecumenism, to be a shared understanding in promoting dialogue and unity within faith, can it be said that there is visible unity? What can be learned from our differences? Likewise, what shape does this take and would be the direction of such a vision?

On the Need for Ecumenism

Something that is becoming clear to me over the years is the necessity for a definitive place for Ecumenism in our understanding and practice of the way of being church. Perhaps this is in part due to my appreciation of the Holy Spirit in Vatican II, an exposure to different languages, cultures and faiths or my own conversion itself. More than likely it is all of these, which engages me to appreciate the beauty of our diverse faith understandings and yet recognize the unity in our uplifted praise of our almighty and every loving God. Still, in order to understand ecumenism as a church in this light, we are then compelled to have a better comprehension of our own faith before we can seek to know more of those who hold different faith perspectives. To do otherwise is to share a inadequate understanding or even a dimly lit candle of ambivalence to the reason we are Catholic. This is indeed a challenging task as we immediately notice the increasing need for faith formation in all ages and across all cultures. For, no longer can we see faith formation ending upon Confirmation, but indeed there is a need for new “ardor, methods, and expression” in the continual formation of us as followers of Christ.

 Yet, how do we encourage an openness to learning more about and fostering a sense of unity among our Christian brothers and sisters?

As Finnish theologian Kärkkäinen observes, it isn’t that we are “creating unity between the churches, but rather to give form to the unity already created by God”. [1]  If we are both certain in our faith, and comfortable in expressing our own to others authentically and respectfully then this is I believe a good beginning.  One beautiful outcome of this is seen in the commitment as a church to “fulfill its essential nature” in mission.[2]

In my experiences both as a Protestant and as a Catholic, I have witnessed occasions of this being done well. Growing up, I lived in a small impoverished community in the South that often found itself racially divided. What united us was our poverty and there came a time when this call also visibly united us as a people of faith. It began with churches like my own filling specific dire needs, and blossomed into a united response across all faiths in first setting up a food and clothing bank. In its overflow, we experienced unity in shared prayer breakfasts, leadership planning, home visits and the personal faith response from the people. Each faith brought the best of itself, whether it be a welcoming space, music, bibles, or hearts filled with the Holy Spirit. What won more hearts to God, was seen not in “segregation, but (felt) in a congregation constituted in divine love” who met God’s people where they needed it most. [3]

I thought of this most recently as I sat at a table surrounded by men and women leaders of faith discussing the local situation of sanctuary cities, and increase in drug addictions and dire need for pastoral response. 2013 brought an even broader experience of ecumenism that transcended beyond Christianity to humanity, with the Boston marathon bombings in April. In one of many interfaith services, over 2,000 people attended the Healing Our City service held at Holy Cross to honor those who had lost their lives and more than 260 who had been injured by the bombings. Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslims joined in solidarity to address the attacks that “shook people from complacency to service”. What we witnessed in the direct aftermath were people using their training as doctors, nurses, ministers, fire fighters and soldiers to assist others with little regard for their own safety. Then, as seen here, we felt God’s love that witnessed to the “Spirit of love, concerned for the good of God and human beings” surpassing “that of a single community”. [4]

What then of our differences?

As Kärkkäinen seems to indicate, as Christians we have far more in common than that which divides us. We hold true to the ‘understanding of the Trinity, the sacredness of scripture and the creeds, the importance of the Eucharist, and teachings of the apostles’.[5] Yet, we differ on our understandings of ‘leadership of episcopacy and papacy, and the emphasis of individual and collective priesthood’. Our expressions of worship likewise show differences in emphasis toward an indispensible priority and structure of the sacraments to freedom of “faith response and flexibility of church models”.[6] It seems apparent to me, that in the years following Vatican II, we have learned much from each other, and could at times be said to be a visible unified community. We cannot, however, assume that visible unity means “uniformity”[7] but rather a “certain but imperfect communion” of a church united and sharing in the “reality” of the spirit of Christ.[8]

See also: DECREE ON ECUMENISM UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO

Have you ever sought a more certain witness to someone who in sharing their faith asked you about yours? If so, what is needed to better assist you? What ways do you see ecumenism in your own community sharing in the love of Christ?

Peace,

Signature


[1] Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. An Introduction to Ecclesiology. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove. (November 2, 2002). p. 85.
[2] p.151.
[3] P.152.
[4] p.89.
[5] p.84.
[6] p.91.
[7] P.84.
[8] P.87.

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