Book Review: Margaret O’Gara, The Ecumenical Gift Exchange

 — Nov. 15, 199815 nov. 1998

Margaret O’Gara, The Ecumenical Gift Exchange. Collegeville: Michael Glazier (The Liturgical Press), 1998. ISBN: 978-0-8146-5893-2

I remember, as an MA student, reading one of Margaret O’Gara’s essays in Grail on petrine ministry and what she called “the ecumenical gift exchange.” Drawing a comparison to the exchange of gifts in a large family at Christmas, O’Gara says that “in ecumenical dialogue, each Christian communion brings one or many gifts to the dialogue table, and each receives riches from their dialogue partners as well. But in the ecumenical gift exchange, the gift-giving enriches all of the partners, since we do not lose our gifts by sharing them with others.” Throughout my own research and the past four years of ecumenical ministry I have kept this concept close at hand.

O’Gara’s new book The Ecumenical Gift Exchange collects her own essays exploring issues of contemporary ecumenical dialogue, particularly: petrine ministry; infallibility; authority and dissent; feminism, and of utmost importance: the process of reception itself. How does one church receive the gifts of another?  What level of agreement is necessary? When does the dialogue move from talking to acting?  How does dialogue lead to repentance and then to reception?

She points out, “In a sense, the entire ecumenical movement rests on the recognition of the need for repentance, a willingness to ask whether we have a beam in our own eye before we concern ourselves with the mote in the eye of the other.”

Reception is actually the stickiest point of contemporary dialogue. O’Gara recounts the confusion over the Vatican’s response to the Anglican-Catholic dialogue’s Final Report. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) clearly had a different standard than the ecumenical office. The dialogue’s conclusion that the two churches have a certain “consonance” of faith regarding the Eucharist was insufficient for the CDF who sought “congruence.” Though the matter was swiftly clarified, the incident raises an important concern for ecumenists. While ecumenists have a carefully developed and consistent methodology, they must ensure that the wider church understands this methodology and can receive their conclusions in the manner intended.

The ten essays re-published here have a considerable overlap in content. While they do not lend themselves to a continuous reading, however, many of the essays are appropriate for individual use. I, myself, will certainly refer many clergy and lay-people with whom I work to these essays.

In this book, O’Gara frequently uses examples drawn from contemporary Roman Catholic involvement in ecumenical dialogue. This should not be surprising as she is involved in a number of dialogues as a Roman Catholic representative, among them the Canadian Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue, the international and U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues, and the international Disciples of Christ-Roman Catholic dialogue. Despite its abundance of Catholic examples, or even because of them, this book should be of great interest to those from the many churches in dialogue with Catholics.

I am also impressed by the ease of language by which O’Gara communicates difficult, complex and often controversial concepts. Her insights constantly caused me to put the book down to think about issues from new perspectives she had proposed. Although written in language that is accessible to all, the text is well researched and includes numerous helpful footnotes.

In my own ministry with local churches I have found that the concept of a gift exchange provides an important insight into the dialogue process for those who are new to ecumenism and those who harbour fears of loss of identity and integrity. To understand that dialogue does not mean “giving up” or “giving in” but, rather, receiving the gifts of other traditions, provides a reassurance permitting further explorations.

O’Gara ends her final essay with a statement of conviction which is axiomatic of ecumenical theology: “that no Christian communion today should do its theology in isolation from the theology and life of all of the other communions. The increasing commitment to a common discernment of the apostolic faith, and the conviction that such discernment is possible only in common, are among the most significant contributions of our age to true evangelization.”

Reprinted from the Catholic Register

Posted: Nov. 15, 1998 • Permanent link:
Categories: Catholic Register, OpinionIn this article: books, Christian unity, dialogue, ecumenism, exchange of gifts
Transmis : 15 nov. 1998 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : Catholic Register, OpinionDans cet article : books, Christian unity, dialogue, ecumenism, exchange of gifts

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