Take Another Look … at Christian Unity

 — Apr. 30, 199730 avril 1997

Ecumenism is not an appendix to the Church’s mission. Rather the search for Christian unity touches the very heart of what it means to be a disciple in the modern world. As Christian people, and as a Church, our ecumenical vocation calls us to examine our relationships with all who bear the name of Christ. In humility, and with integrity, we must be prepared to confess our failures and our sins of disunity, and forgive those of our Christian brothers and sisters where they have sinned against us.

These principles described above are the insight and commitment of the Catholic Church expressed at the Second Vatican Council and repeated in a number of other forums since. Our formal commitment and collected energies as a Church have strongly influenced the ecumenical agenda, and given a needed boost to the search for Christian unity in our day.

In the 1990’s and into the early decades of the next century, the primary ecumenical relationships for our church will deepen but will not lead to full communion. Many Catholics are disappointed by the lack of progress in ecumenical affairs, “Can’t we see that they’re Christian just like us” we say. Certainly, and this leads to a very significant change in our attitude and practices with regard to other churches. But being Christian, sharing in the one baptism and one Lord does not necessarily mean we share in one faith.

Our faith and that of our Christian friends is a lot more than: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Our understanding of sacraments, salvation, community, authority, and so many other doctrines have developed independently for some four or five hundred years. It should be expected that fifty, sixty, seventy, even one hundred years will be needed to lead to full unity of faith, and thus full communion. In the interim, a committed and concerted effort to maintain the ecumenical vision is essential. This is the vocation to which Vatican II and the recent Papal encyclical “Ut Unum Sint” called us.

However, our ecumenical report card is not without its cautions. While the Church leadership speaks loudly of a commitment to reforming the Church to reflect visible unity, the words rarely translate into action. Nobody would suggest that true ecumenical advance is possible without acting with integrity. But, when “integrity” becomes an excuse for inaction, Christian unity becomes associated with the radical fringe of the church. In fact, “integrity” calls us to act boldly and conscientiously, to seek imaginatively for new ways of being church. Integrity calls us to address questions that are painful, to dig up unhappy memories, to admit to our sins against unity. Very few of us are prepared to do this.

Frequently the explanation is given that raising certain issues, and addressing certain questions, will scandalize the faithful. As others have pointed out quite well, nothing scandalizes more than leaders who fear the burdens of leadership. Catholics are already scandalized. Like their Christian friends and neighbours, Catholics are appalled at the divisions of the churches. When this sometimes leads to ignoring real issues that separate, it is a problem. When it becomes an obstacle to leadership, it is deplorable. The best course to steer is somewhere between these two extremes.

The really tough questions today are not doctrinal but pastoral. Despite doctrinal differences we are on the way to real convergence. After all, human inquiry into the mystical ultimately leads to mystery. In the face of mystery, we all fall silent.

Pastoral questions, on the other hand, are serious issues that transcend our denominationally straight lines. The same pastoral problems and questions arise in all churches, and solutions are shared across the church spectrum. Where issues such as homosexuality divide one church, they probably also divide others. Various movements within one church find common cause with those in other churches. Some might say that there no longer truly is denominational difference. In the late twentieth century it is ideology that divides us. There are liberals and conservatives, liturgists and proponents of free prayer, theologically orthodox and charismatics. Yet none of these categories are mutually exclusive. A late nineteenth century Catholic might have shuddered at the “anarchy” while a “post-modernist” will revel in the diversity.

So the second task of contemporary ecumenism is to keep the doors open within the church as well as between the churches. The marks of true ecumenism are openness to the views of others, recognition that there is something we need to learn from others, and an acceptance of diversity as an expression of the fullness of the church.

Interestingly, all of these attributes are part of the Canadian spirit. Surely, with our experience of diversity, we can contribute something to the wider church around the world through our authentically Christian and authentically Canadian approach to unity amid diversity?

Posted: Apr. 30, 1997 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=6336
Categories: OpinionIn this article: Christian unity, ecumenism
Transmis : 30 avril 1997 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=6336
Catégorie : OpinionDans cet article : Christian unity, ecumenism

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