The following is a transcript from the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Today is episode 24: Christian Sisters (and Brothers, too) oh the Time has Come
Well, hello friends. Today we’re talking about Christian ecumenism and how the current time we find ourselves in is the very perfect time to explore it. And it’s why I’ve named today’s episode in the way I did, like, “Christian Sisters oh the time has come…” Well, you get it, sorry I just can’t help myself sometimes. Anyway, by definition, ecumenism is the concept by which Christians of different denominations work together to form relationship between churches and to promote unity. In another episode, we will expand our conversation to include our sisters and brothers of other faiths, and even no faith at all, but for today let’s focus on our sometimes-dysfunctional Christian family.
The world’s a messy place and you could make the case that we’ve never needed the hope of Jesus and the Gospel more than we do today which makes it kind of tragic that the friends of Jesus don’t always represent Him well in the public realm. On social media especially, you see outright nastiness from professed Catholics and Christians from the larger Church, and frequently from clergy which, yikes. These days you see lots of infighting within churches and between churches on dogmatic lines that quickly devolve into judgmentalism and name calling. And If it’s true that they’ll know we are Christians by our love, well, this kind of behavior becomes a real problem for like, the whole world.
We can get so tied up in labels and teams and orthodoxy and specificity of belief that we can miss the kindness and love that was at the heart of Jesus’s example. The more we focus on our own righteousness and our own doctrinal right-ness, the more self-focused, ego-driven, tribal, and truly lost we can become. So, if you find yourself huddled up solely with your own denomination both with actual people and in the books and media and prayers that you take in, if you look with suspicion on Christians who practice their faith differently from you, if you pray for the ‘conversion’ of a fellow Christian to your own denomination, or if you think you have nothing to learn from someone who goes by a different label, I would like to propose a gentle correction here. The more determined we are that everyone else is the ‘problem’, the less likely we are to ever look inward at the plank in our own eye. And the longer we keep our denominal blinders on, the more we’ll miss of the beautiful Kingdom that Jesus came to bring us, and what a shame that would be. Sisters and brothers, it does not have to be this way.
The word ecumenism comes from two Greek words, one of which means ‘the whole inhabited world’ and the other means ‘house’. In other words, ecumenism refers to a place to bring together people of differing beliefs – again it’s most often used to describe Christians of varying denominations but certainly can refer to people of all faiths and even no faith at all. Ecumenism is a big tent philosophy with a goal of finding unity in diversity. The word was first used at a missionary conference in Edinburgh in 1910 and was later used in the Second Vatican Council, referring to the renewal of the whole Church in order to make it more responsive to all denominations in obedience to Jesus’s prayer that we may all be one. More on that prayer later.
I was a cradle Catholic who married a Protestant who later converted to the Catholic faith, though I never asked him to and would not have cared if he ever did. Tim made that decision to convert, by the way, because of the kindness of the Catholic chapel community we attended at that time. We can forget the huge role of simple human kindness in our faith lives sometimes, don’t you think? Anyway, there were members of his extended family who were not so sure if they wanted to enter a Catholic church on our wedding day, as they had heard all about our ‘cult’ who ‘drinks blood’ and ‘worships the Pope who is actually the anti-Christ’. Anyway, you get it. I had never heard of anti-Catholic bias before then. I was just a kid who was raised in the suburbs of Boston where Catholicism sometimes just felt like the water I swam in. I did not know that that kind of thinking existed.
Later, when I explored my faith in depth in my mid-twenties, it was Protestant writers who brought real color and depth to my experience. C.S. Lewis, Philip Yancey, Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, Anne Lamott, Peter Gomes, Barbara Brown Taylor – these writers helped form me as a grown-up Christian, and they gave me the permission, curiosity, and longing to learn how to walk closely with Jesus as my friend. They helped form my heart and mind centered in Him, so that later, when I found Catholic writers like Henri Nouwen, James Martin, Thomas Merton, and Richard Rohr, I found a whole new beauty in my Catholic tradition.
Today, I see Jesus working in the lives of my brothers and sisters from all denominations, and as I look out onto the wider Church, I see churches just like mine, filled with imperfect people, stumbling along, and reaching for understanding and grace. It’s possible for us to receive this grace and communion with each other, too, because God is our Father and that makes us family. There’s great wisdom and color in our individual experiences of faith that we can and should share. We can learn so much from each other. Imagine what it could look like if we tried.
Today there are ecumenical councils of churches, ecumenical institutes and offices, ecumenical monastic orders, and untold numbers of documents and speeches and conferences, all about the subject of unity and the prayer of Jesus that ‘they all might be one.’ So, why hasn’t it seemed to make that much of a difference up until now? Why are we seemingly so much even more divided, even within denominations and between them than ever before in our country? I believe that for true ecumenism to take root, it has to start from the bottom up. It’s not about leadership, primarily, though strong leaders could help in this space, but true ecumenism is about us, our hearts, and our perspective. I heard a homily recently that declared that the prayer of Jesus that ‘we all might be one’ was really His prayer that all people would be members of the Catholic Church, and that is just not what Jesus said, so you know what? Let’s go straight to the source. Right before he was betrayed by Judas in the Garden, Jesus prayed for all of us, and this is what He said:
“I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one— I in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.”
Do you hear it? Jesus is praying that we would be as united as Jesus and the Father are united, and that is to say, the most intimate and loving of families, and that this unity would be for a specific purpose: that the world might know. The prayer of Jesus was not that we would all be in one denomination or church, sitting in the same pews, but that we would be united within and around each other, SO THAT the world would know that Jesus was sent by God and that we are loved by God as much as Him. So, there’s a goal for our unity that is not primarily about us – the clear benefit of unity that is unequivocally stated by Jesus is not about labels or memberships or titles or teams. It’s about love. How we treat each other then takes on new meaning and weight. If our unity is meant to show the world something about the very nature of God, how are we doing with that these days?
As different denominations, we have differing teachings, worship styles, and structures but one common call to love. When researching this episode, I discovered that the symbol of Christian ecumenism actually is a boat with a cross for a mast and when first I saw it, I laughed to myself because it really is so true: it’s choppy seas out there these days, my friends, but we all have Jesus in common so we’re literally all in the same boat, whether we like it or not. So, what if we started to row in the same direction, toward love? Imagine how much further we’d get.
Well, thanks so much for listening today, friends. As usual, I have lots of resources for you in today’s show notes and if you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com.
To close our episode today, let’s consider that prayer of unity that Jesus gave us, for the whole Church, that ‘they may be one even as We are one.’ So, let us pray:
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, we’re family. Help us to think like a family, to work together toward unity and to love each other well. And we pray in Jesus’s name, amen.Thanks again for listening, friends, and I’ll see you next time.