How do you spell ‘Ecumenism’? … Like this?
Or like this?
Ecumenism: “to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ,” does not mean:
The true meaning behind the Church’s ecumenical mission is to bring about the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer to the Father: “Ut Sint Unum!” — That they may be one, as we are one (John 17:11).
I cannot penetrate the depth of that thought, i.e., that we may have unity like that of the Holy Trinity. Franky, the very thought of it baffles me and my theology. Yet that was the prayer of Christ. What are we to make of it?
We can start with other Gospel passages where Christ speaks about the unity of his Church. Two texts immediately come to mind.
The first is John 10:16, where Jesus says: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Who are these other sheep? In a way, that does not matter. Maybe we are the other sheep. What matters to him and should matter to us is that we are called by him to be members of his flock. His one flock. If we are not sure whether or not we belong to that flock — that’s something we really ought to find out, is it not?
Consider this passage from Matthew 16:
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is? “They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah. From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. (Matthew 16:13-21)
There has been a lot of apologetic ink spilt over this passage. Here I don’t want to quibble over the Greek — houto, taute, touto — and neither do you, for that matter. I want to focus on oikodomeso mou ten ekklesian (pardon my transliteration) and what immediately follows (verses 18 & 19). I promise I’ll stick to English.
How many Churches does Jesus say he will build? How many Churches does he have? In this passage, he says “I will build my Church” — singular. That’s the Church against which the gates of hell will not prevail. That’s the Church to which I want to belong — the Church Jesus built. Find me that Church, I’ll join it.
Ut sint unum!
One Church, one shepherd, one flock… one rock. (Don’t give me none of that houto-taute mumbo jumbo! This ain’t the time for that nonsense!)
Allow me to explain. If the houto-taute talk is over your head, don’t worry. That’s just for insiders who think they know Greek. And it’s beside the point. The point is that Jesus Christ founded one Church and he gave the keys to that Church to one man. That’s all I’m trying to say.
In my humble opinion, indispensable keys to fostering “whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ,” are contained in this passage, literally.
Is that all? No. One the one hand, I am very aware that Christians of different denominations interpret this passage from Matthew differently; I can also be sure that anyone reading this post knows how the Catholic Church interprets it; so there is still a lot left unsaid here. On the other hand, effective ecumenism entails dialogue — listening, understanding, respecting other perspectives. I can’t say I have the last word here. I believe I might, but I’m open to dialogue.
Why dialogue? Because the Lord prayed that we should all be united as Christians. How else are we going to achieve it?
In Lumen Gentium, The Second Vatican Council confirmed that unity among Christians already exists, as did St Paul: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:1-6). We are still called to greater, more perfect unity — I believe — on earth as it is in heaven. After all, Christ did say, “that they may be one as we are one.” Therefore, as Christians, we really ought to seek more perfect unity, even if in this world we will never be perfect.
How can we foster greater unity among Christians today? As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Look at the world around us today. Has there ever been a time when Christians of all denominations needed to be more united? The moral fibre of our culture, the preservation our religious liberty, the success of the pro-life movement — all these things are upheld by the values we share as Christians on account of our faith.
Hence there are many ways we can work together as Christians. Christians should also pray together, read scripture together, talk about our faith together. Beyond those good and helpful things, the spirit of initiative is endless. Why not start a grassroots ecumenism blog, for example? Anything to help foster Christian unity is a good.
Ecumenism does not necessarily mean proselytization, but it definitely means more than I’m okay, you’re okay, let’s just agree to peacefully coexist. Ecumenism truly means you-come-in-ism. The One Good Shepherd calls us all to be part of one flock. That is the unity Christ prayed for. That is the unity we must seek.