I am often asked “What is that word? How do you say it…?” ecumen-i-cal. The deliberate choice of our founders, to choose this descriptor for our renewal of Catholicism, makes many pause. Ecumenism is not one thing, especially in a dynamic, evolving church. I would begin with three aspects: openness, inclusiveness, a non-sectarian way of relating.
Openness mans that even with the parochial or more narrow childhood training many of us received, we commit ourselves to relax our judgmental mind and focus our heart on the deeper essential Reality – beyond thought and belief systems. Attuned to the Spirit, we need not be fearful of “losing our faith” or religious identity. Both can grow as living plants. “The Spirit scrutinizes all things, even the deep things of God” (I Cor2:10). We are already of “the way.”
Openness, without fear, allows us to pray, meditate, dialogue, associate and even worship with other Christians and non-Christians. It is the Cosmic-Christ-love that unifies hearts by unifying the opposites or variances. Sadly, cherished separating points or beliefs have been part of Christianity since c. 313 C.E., when Christian identity was exploited for an emperor’s self-serving purposes. The Brothers of Taize, France have given us a potent antidote: “Be a ferment of unity.
Never resign yourself to the scandal of separation of Christians. Be consumed with burning zeal for the unity of the Body of Christ.” (Preamble, The Rule)
When I was leaving the Roman Catholic Church, I told friends I am challenging myself to avoid facile comparisons and condemning of my Catholic brothers and sisters. In this, I have succeeded often, and failed frequently. In choosing another form of Catholicism, I had to be careful to expand my heart, seeing them as equally valid and cherished in Christ’s universal heart. A deeper inclusiveness!
In his book An Ecumenical Light, John Heijke recommends the following practical attitudes and practices. As you read John’s thoughts, you might want to picture before you, fellow Christians, non-Christians, Roman Catholics and Protestants and others, who cannot be apart from Christ’s love. ~ We live by a perturbing Spirit who prevents us from settling down, cozying up with a few
others, becoming righteous and complete in our own eyes. ~ Consider transcending the utopian ideal of the perfect church; the disappointment and embitterment that “all institutions” are deformative of Christ’s mission. ~ Accept the burden of a symbolic cross for birthing genuine Catholic renewal. ~ Avoid the unseen attitude as a liberal/progressive of having little to do with conservatives, evangelicals, and traditionalists. ~ Acknowledge the defects and dysfunction in your own parish (or the ECC communities). ~ Commit to a more intense inner life as the “leaven” of reform and renewal. ~ Do not expect, as a condition for your respect, others to make steps which their faith makes impossible.
Like Francis of Assisi, who lived in a corrupt age, a practice of plain lived examples is preferable to the cherished condemnations. Heijke’s seven attitudes are a fresh invitation to live out our chosen ecumenical vocation. For me that calling is beyond “all are welcome” to the Eucharistic table to “all are reverently held” in our awakening Christ’s minds as already one and beyond separation.
~ Fr. Len Schreiner, Vicar, Rocky Mountain Region