February 20, 2015

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Let’s not turn back on ongoing work, progress toward unity

To argue. To debate. To dialogue. These are very different means by which ideas are shared.

Arguments more often than not are a contest often fraught with emotion.

Debates are more formal “contests,” less about emotion yet by their nature involve a winner and a loser.

Dialogues are formal. What emotion there may be is passion for the truth. They have ground rules, most importantly respect for the person with whom one is in dialogue, and respect for the truth they speak from their knowledge, and in the case of religious dialogue, their faith.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, there was little formal dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian communities or other religions. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation were steeped in debate, at best. “Being right” was seen essential. Therefore, there had to be a winner.

Pope Pius XII cautiously opened the possibility of dialogue. St. John XXIII widened the avenues of dialogue through calling the “ecumenical council” known as Vatican II. Official representatives of various Christian traditions were present during the sessions. They did not speak, though their reactions and input were sought in informal gatherings.

Two documents of the Council in particular lead to official dialogues being established: the “Decree on Ecumenism” (“Unitatis Redintegratio,” 1964), and the “Declaration on Religious Freedom” (“Dignitatis Humanae,” 1965).

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, wrote the following in a 2003 reflection “Nature and Purpose of Ecumenical Dialogue”:

“Ecumenical dialogue is a dialogue between those who believe in Jesus Christ and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, but belong to different Churches often contradicting each other in matters of faith, church structures and morals.”

He went on to say: “ … ecumenical dialogue must be understood as a Spirit guided spiritual process and as one way in which the Church grows in insight into the once and for all revealed truth, and advances towards a fuller understanding of divine truth.”

The “Decree on Ecumenism,” Cardinal Kasper states, “presents three dimensions of ecumenical dialogue. Firstly, there is theological dialogue, where experts explain the beliefs of each individual Church, so that their characteristics become clearer, and better mutual understanding is fostered.

“The second dimension involves practical cooperation and especially common prayer, and represents the very heart of the ecumenical movement. This aspect of dialogue encompasses not only academic theological dialogue, but the whole life of the Church and of all the faithful.

“The third dimension is renewal and reform of our own Church, so that she becomes more fully an authentic sign and witness of the Gospel and an invitation for other Christians.” There cannot be ecumenism without personal conversion and institutional renewal.

“The ecumenism ad extra, the dialogue with the other Churches and ecclesial communities, presupposes therefore the ecumenism ad intra, learning from each other and self-reform. Full communion cannot be achieved by convergence alone but also, and perhaps even more so, by conversion which implies repentance, forgiveness and renewal of heart. Such a conversion is a gift of grace.”

Over the next several months, this column will explore this vital spiritual and theological exercise begun some 50 years ago. Much has been accomplished. Yet challenges and hurdles remain.

But I am confident that the Spirit is at work, and will one day bring us to unity in Christ.

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism. He is also dean of the Terre Haute deanery and pastor of St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary parishes, both in Terre Haute. E-mail him at rginther@saintpat.org)

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