Several years (1999) ago I met an evangelical brother through a conference we conducted called: "Word & Spirit—The Renewal the Church Needs." This event was a major turning-point in my journey and was held at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (PCUSA) in Dubuque, Iowa. This brother who met me back in 1999 graduated with an M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has proven again and again to be a fine Christian man with a deep love for the mystery of Christ crucified. In 2005 our paths crossed once again, also in Dubuque. Following this meeting we got to know one another as real friends very quickly. By this point my evangelical brother had entered the Roman Catholic Church and was a novice in a monastery near Peoria, Illinois. I twice visited him there, where I made other new friends and where we discussed a good deal of our common Christian faith and our remaining differences as well. We read from Pope Benedict on Christian unity and we discussed the nature of the gospel of grace too.
This same friend came by to visit yesterday and to spend the evening in our home. He left just a few minutes ago and I already miss him. He entered a Catholic seminary in St. Paul, last August, to prepare for the priesthood. Today he is on his way to central Illinois to visit his brothers in the monastery where he once lived. We also had the opportunity to share lunch yesterday with Wilbur Ellsworth, our ACT 3 board chairman who is a newly ordained priest in the Antiochian Orthodox Church. Last evening Anita and I, along with my Catholic brother, then had dinner with our out-of-town guests, Ron and Adriana Nollet, who are converted Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Ron will speak tonight at our first ACT 3 Forum of 2007 at 6 p.m. in Warrenville, Illinois.)
I relate this personal stuff for two reasons. The kind of ecumenism that draws me is one deeply rooted in love for brothers and sisters in Christ. I have maintained for some years that you can always form poor judgments about people so long as you do not get to know them, love them, or pray with them. Second, my Catholic brother helped me to see something last night that was clearly a profound gift from God to me. He recently held a private, silent retreat. The Lord put me on his heart during that time. What he wrote down for me was precisely what Christ wanted me to hear I am quite sure. The simple words he shared last night before we retired for bed made more sense out of my ministry and human sufferings than anything I have had the Lord say to me in months, perhaps years.
My friend asked me one penetrating question: "Why do you think God has chosen not to heal you of your physical illness?" The answer the Lord has impressed upon me, and independently upon my friend, was deeply rooted in Scripture as well as in the divine mysteries of Christ’s cross. I can see now, more clearly, how to go forward in deeper faith. Frankly, I am convinced that I entertained my brother for a period of fellowship but I also think angels may have been visiting here last night too. Could you say, no pop cultural connotations intended, that "I was touched by an angel?"