This week, the Holy Father made it easier for Anglicans who want to be united with Rome to, well, unite with Rome. There are many people more knowledgeable than I who wrote about it. Among them are: Father Z., Matthew Archbold, Rocco Palmo, Fr. Longenecker (who was once Anglican himself). I'm not going to try to dissect the pope's message. So many others are doing that, and I don't have the real energy it would take to do that well. I don't even have the energy to write down my navel-gazings for this blog, let alone take on a major project like that. I will just say not to believe everything you read in the papers, secular and otherwise. There are people who just don't like the pope. And I don't think he's poaching congregations from others. He's just responding to their request to come home. What good father wouldn't find a way for his child to come home (See the Prodigal Son)?
But today Father Z. posted this good bit about B16 being the Pope of Christian Unity and food for thinking about what Ecumenism truly is. And my brain took that food for thought and it satisfied something my brain has been trying to chew on for years.
I firmly believe, and was taught, that the Catholic Church is the only Church founded by Jesus Christ. Our popes and bishops trace their line (through ordination) all the way back, unbroken through history, to the Apostles, whom Jesus commissioned. Presbyterians can trace their lines back only so far as John Calvin, Anglicans to Henry VIII of England, etc..
By our baptism, we are called, among other things, to go forth and make disciples of all nations. We are all called to mission. Maybe some of us are called to go out and evangelize in extraordinary ways, by going to other countries and to proclaim the Good News to those who have never heard it. Maybe some of us are called by God to evangelize in our parishes, in catechetical ministry. Maybe some are called to evangelize by blog. But all of us are called to live as Jesus taught us, keeping the 10 Commandments: loving God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. In this way, with the joy that comes from living as the Lord intends us to live, we draw others closer to God. They see how joyful we are and they draw closer to God by our example. This is how the ordinary person is an evangelist.
Not to get off track, but think on this: How full of joy are you? Are you feeling the joy that comes from life in Christ? Why or why not? Can other people tell? Are you giving anyone a reason to consider the Church?
So, if we can accept that the Catholic Church is historically the Church founded by Christ Himself (see third paragraph above), and we can accept that Christians are called to mission, what should the true purpose of ecumenism be? Should it be about fact-finding? ("Ah, I see that you believe in the Real Presence. So do we! But you really don't have it since your founder broke away from the Church and interrupted the line of Apostolic succession. Hmmm...what else have we got?")
And what of the "one, true Church" argument? The Catholic Church is the only Church founded by Christ Himself. In Lumen Gentium, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council said that other Christian churches are only true churches as far as they subsist in the Catholic Church, or are in union with the Catholic Church.
I read somewhere recently (and I cannot remember the source) that someone said that through interreligious dialogue should be like laying down a two way street so that we don't crash into each other. We learn about each other so we can stay out of one another's way. Consider: is this true to what we understand our mission as baptized Christians to be? Especially in light of Jesus' prayer that all are one in Him?
If we consider the highway analogy above, it works for us, to a point. After dialogue with those of other faiths, the example of the Catholic Christian should be so compelling, and his ways of explaining the Faith so good, that others are led to join the Catholic Church, not through any direct, coercive effort of the Catholic Christian, but through the work of the Holy Spirit, who draws us ever closer to the Lord.
So, can ecumenism truly be about fact finding? I don't think so. By being a true Christian, by loving God and others perfectly, those who belong to other faiths should want to join us. Father Z. used the analogy in his article about the members of the two faiths stretching, which is an image I find particularly apt. One person is about to fall off a cliff. The other, on top of the cliff, stretches his hand, scooting himself to the edge, reaching as far as he can to save his friend without falling over the edge himself. The other, clinging to the rock for life, stretches his hand as high as he can. Their fingertips brush, they stretch more, reaching, reaching, until they clasp hands, and the one at the top is able to pull his friend back to the safety of the solid rock, the Rock upon whom Jesus built His Church.