On the second day of our Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation last week we spent Friday morning sharing, praying and seeking to love one another as new friends in Christ. In a group of twenty-five people, many of whom only met the day before, this is not easy to do. Indeed, at one level this effort can only go so far. But we began to sense the presence of the Spirit in our deliberations as time went along. The night before many of us had shared with one another until late in the evening over food and drink. (Some of the Protestants were amazed that a bar was a staple in this Catholic retreat context!) This beautiful evening of conversation helped to get us talking. This conversation clearly carried over into Friday morning. After we shared another meal at breakfast we went into our large circle. We then had a long break at 11:00 a.m.
Before lunch we were all invited to chapel for a Mass led by Francis Cardinal George. It was a twenty-fifth anniversary celebration for the class of 1988. The chapel was packed with students, faculty, family and guests. Our Lausanne group sat together. The service was magisterial and Cardinal George’s homily was quite good. He made several comments about the recent conclave and said that when the new pope announced that he would take the name of “Francis” he said to himself, “Finally, a pope who took my name!” The appropriate humor was not missed. He also said that he, nor anyone else to his knowledge, went into the conclave thinking that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio would become pope. He attributed this to the Spirit’s movement in an obvious and unique way. After the Mass a photo of our group was made with Cardinal George. We were standing in the front of the chapel.
When the time came to serve the elements of the eucharist I felt the pain of our division once again. As a Protestant who respects the Catholic stance on the Lord’s Supper I sat and prayed as my Catholic friends went forward. I could have gone and received a prayerful blessing but felt this was not the time or place for very personal reasons. I watched, prayed and felt a great loss to the church in this reminder of our divided state. I realized again that we must keep working on this issue until the Lord grants us unity. I was reminded, at the same time, as to just how far we’ve come with regard to baptism. Most Christian communions, unless they accept only adult baptism by immersion, now accept baptism from other trinitarian ecclesial bodies. This is a huge step into deeper unity compared to just a few decades ago. Will the same happen with the eucharist? Some are convinced that this can never happen unless every other Christian church comes into communion with the Catholic Church and the pope. I do not pretend to know how this can happen but I believe that it will, perhaps decades or centuries from now. A lot more has to be worked out in ecumenical dialogue but I have learned one thing–never say never when it comes to the surprises of the Holy Spirit.
After lunch we finally began to talk about some of our common problems that we face in the culture. We asked how we could address them as brothers and sisters in Christ. We made a list of some of these problems that we saw in the culture and came up with items such as – great divisions related to politics, suffering and our response to it, concerns for a clearer message regarding social justice, the power and influence of special interest groups, sentimentality in our response to deep issues, suspicious judgment toward others and no distinctly clear Christian anthropology (especially among evangelicals). We then listed some solutions as well – deepening our relationships, serving better together, seeking and gaining new simplicity, a commitment to redemptive suffering shared together as friends, real virtue, learning to tell our story better, and the theology of the body (as emphasized by Pope John Paul II) and the rising new monasticism movements.
One of the most memorable quotations of the afternoon was made in the context of a deep discussion about how sexuality was dividing our culture and pushing Christians to the margins of society, especially among the millennial generation. How can we be faithful and transparent, loving and truthful? Someone quoted a famous Christian author who concluded that “sex is the mysticism of the materialist.” I will never forget that statement as long as I live. I believe this culture is hungering and thirsting for the transcendent and the mystical. Many people have come to believe this hunger can be met in sexual relationships. This is a patent lie and the breakdown of families and culture will only make it more obvious over time. A unified church can be positioned to better respond to this deep hunger. This drew us right back into the John 17:21-24 context of the entire dialogue.