Blog # 357 Ecumenism
When the document on the subject of ecumenism was officially issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1964, I think not many Catholics were familiar with the word ecumenism, let alone any responsibility they might have toward what the Council outlined as a responsibility of us all. Along this line, sadly, it would seem not much has changed. It is now 50 years later, and for some, I suppose, the word might merely sound like the name of a new disease.
Christian ecumenism has been defined as an effort, activity, or movement among believers in Jesus to work, through mutual understanding, prayer, and dialogue toward the achievement of unity. The first paragraph of the Council's decree on ecumenism says this : "Promoting the restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the chief concerns of the Second Vatican Council. The Church established by Christ the Lord is indeed one and unique. Yet many Christian communions present themselves as the true heritage of Jesus Christ. To be sure, all proclaim themselves to be disciples of the Lord, but their convictions clash and their paths diverge as though Christ Himself were divided.
(cf. 1 Cor. 1: 13). Without doubt this discord openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the Good News to every creature.
In par. 4 of the document we have this: "This sacred synod exhorts all the Catholic faithful to recognize the signs of the times and to participate skillfully in the work of ecumenism...In ecumenical work, Catholics must assuredly be concerned for their separated brothers, praying for them, keeping them informed about the Church, making the first approaches toward them. But their primary duty is to make an honest and careful appraisal of whatever needs to be done and achieved in the Catholic household itself, in order that its life may be a witness more loyally and luminously to the teaching and ordinances which have been handed down from Christ through the Apostles."
Though none of us profess more than one Jesus, though none of us claim salvation in any other name than His, if you look in a local phone book in almost any small town across the U.S. you will find upwards of seventeen different Christian churches listed. It is not just separation of Catholic from Protestant believers but a separation of Protestants from Protestants. We as Catholics, therefore, are not the cause of the continuing separation. Nor is the Bible, nor a lack of desire for salvation. Yet we are separated.
Some have said our separation is a good thing, to show the richness of God's love reflected in so many different ways like the rays of the sun shining on a precious jewel. Yet in the upper room the very night before He died Jesus prayed: "for those who will believe in me through their word, that all would be one as You, Father, are in me, and I am in You...that the world may believe that You sent me". (Jn. 17: 21).
It is significant to note that our Lord's prayer "that all may be one" did not refer to a mere unity of fellowship, opinion, purpose, or feeling. Nor was His prayer in the interest of size, prestige, or tidiness of organization among believers, but "that the world my believe." The unity of believers is given as a witness that draws non believers to the foot of the Cross and to the love of God for all people in Jesus
Jesus had already spoken of Himself as vine and branches on that vine (Jn 15: 5). The image of vine and branches certainly indicates a profound unity. Branches and vine are so united as to share one life.
Some other Biblical texts that impress upon us the significance and importance the unity of believers, are these: Eph. 1:2; 2: 14; Gal. 3:26-28; 1 Cor. 12:12f; 1 Cor. 10:17; Eph. 4"25; 5: 29,30.
Three features of paramount importance to contemporary ecumenism are these: REFLECTION, REFORM, DIALOGUE, and fundamental to them all is PRAYER.
Reflection: We must look about us, study, wonder , and plan how best to respond to the divisions among Christian believers today.
Reform: We must examine ourselves to discover if there is anything in our manner of thinking and acting that makes it difficult or practically impossible for someone in another Christian community to see in us the will and plan of God for salvation and holiness that was revealed in the life death and resurrection of Jesus. What is defective we must correct. What is missing we must supply.
Dialogue: We should seek opportunities and prepare ourselves to talk with our Christian neighbors about our faith and theirs. That is the hope, and the dream, and the work of ecumenism. The rest is up to God.