A Catholic Priest on “True Ecumenism”

One of my deep frustrations is to get conservative Catholics to take ecumenism seriously. There is no official reason not to take it seriously but at the level of real action many would rather not get into this messy business. (By the way, I have a similar problem with conservative Protestants who think in one way about ecumenism, namely that the word means “compromise.”)

A recent article by Msgr. Owen F. Campion, the associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor (OSV), a widely read Catholic weekly, brought me a great deal of encouragement because I found a conservative Catholic writer who does take ecumenism seriously. Campion, writing in the October 12 issue of OSV, says that true ecumenism, “rather than playing down differences . . . is about coming together in Christian witness to the world.” Bravo! This is precisely he central point in my view of missional-ecumenism.

Campion refers to Pope Benedict XVI’s recent visit to Westminster Abbey in England. He writes that Westminster is a “strong symbol of the division between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.” But, he adds, it is “also of England’s great Christian past.” He believes Pope Benedict went there precisely because of the symbolism. His visit was friendly, cordial and social. The two leaders, Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan Williams sat in the sanctuary of the abbey church to preside at Evensong, the Anglican vespers. Neither Pope Benedict nor the archbishop downplayed or denied their significant differences but “they stressed the common faith of both bodies in the Lord Jesus, and in his faith they called Anglicans and Catholics to come together in Christian witness in the world.” Campion then rightly offers and observation that I rarely hear from conservative Catholic bloggers and polemicists when he adds: “This is ecumenism, an attitude and an activity that has never truly captured the minds and hearts of Catholics, and that still bothers and even angers many Catholics.”

I have found this last statement to be all too true. True ecumenism is not about diluting anyone’s faith. True ecumenism acknowledges our differences in the spirit of Christ’s love and then builds on “shared understandings and further, if at all possible, the work of the Gospel.”

No one could better express what I believe than Campion does in this article. He reasons that Pope Benedict’s “friendly meeting with the chief Anglican bishop, as well as his other contacts with religious figures, show[s] that ecumenism has a role in modern Catholicism, what true ecumenism is and what it means.”

He concludes that “it is high time for Christians to get together to more eagerly witness to Christ’s love.” Why? Because the real battle is not between different Christians and denominations but rather between Christians and people with no faith at all. “Christians have to convince millions of people with no religion that there indeed is something to the Gospel of Christ, not by arguing or being aloof, but simply by showing themselves truly to be disciples.” Amen!

This is precisely what John 17:20-23 sets forth: relational oneness that models the relationship between the Father and the Son in intimate personal communion. This is the true and substantial basis for our oneness and unity as believers in Christ. This will show the world that we are his disciples. Read the text if you think I am out of line. Msgr. Campion gets it right. I wish that more conservative Catholics would eagerly agree and enter into conversation, prayer and common witness with me, and others like me, so that the perishing world without the knowledge of Christ’s love might be seen in all his people. Jesus said the reasons for this oneness is that others might come to know that the Father sent the Son into the world to save it in Jesus Christ.