Authentic Ecumenism

for February 28th, 2014

Liturgical texts here

No Compromise – Daniel in the Lions Den, Briton Rivière (1840-1920)



FRANKLY, “ecumenism” is not a word that invokes a lot of positive connotations. It has often been associated with interdenominational Masses, watered down theology, and other abuses in the wake of  the Second Vatican Council.

In a word, compromise.

So when I speak of ecumenism, I understand why some readers have their hackles up. But ecumenism is not a swear word. It is the movement toward fulfilling the prayer of Christ that we would “all be one.” Unity is based on the inner life of the Holy Trinity. Thus, it is an absolute scandal that baptized Christians who profess Jesus as Lord should be separated.

Given the seriousness of the counter-witness of division among Christians… the search for paths to unity becomes all the more urgent… If we concentrate on the convictions we share, and if we keep in mind the principle of the hierarchy of truths, we will be able to progress decidedly towards common expressions of proclamation, service and witness. —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 246

Finding common ground does not mean compromise. In the hierarchy of truths, our common ground is in the sacrament(s) of initiation:

All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 818

I remember several years ago participating in a “March for Jesus.” Thousands of Christians marched through the streets of the city, carrying banners, singing songs of praise, and declaring our love for the Lord. As we arrived at the legislature grounds, Christians from every denomination raised their hands in the air and praised Jesus. The air was absolutely saturated with the presence of God. The people beside me had no idea I was a Catholic; I had no idea what their background was, yet we felt an intense love for one another… it was a taste of heaven. Together, we were witnessing to the world that Jesus is Lord.

That’s ecumenism.

But authentic ecumenism also means that we do not hide our differences or obscure the truth “for the sake of peace”—the error of indifferentism. Authentic peace is dependent upon truthfulness, otherwise, the house of unity is being built on sand. It is worth repeating what Pope Francis wrote:

True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being “open to understanding those of the other party” and “knowing that dialogue can enrich each side”. What is not helpful is a diplomatic openness which says “yes” to everything in order to avoid problems, for this would be a way of deceiving others and denying them the good which we have been given to share generously with others. —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 25

Jesus is our model for building Christian unity. When He addressed the Samaritan woman at the well, did He compromise? When Jesus dined with Zaccaheus, did He compromise? When He engaged the pagan governor, Pontius Pilate, did He compromise? And yet, all three of these people, according to tradition, became Christians. What Jesus teaches us is that relationship builds bridges over which the truth can be transmitted. And this relationship requires humility, an ability to listen and imitate the patience God has shown us (for no one is born with a Catechism under his armpit.)

Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged… because the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (First reading)

And again:

Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. (Today’s Psalm)

In a word, love. For love never fails… [1]cf. 1 Cor 13:8

If you find yourself in front of – imagine! – in front of an atheist, and he tells you he doesn’t believe in God, you can read him a whole library, where it says that God exists and even proving that God exists, and he will not have faith. But if in the presence of this atheist you bear consistent witness of Christian life, something will begin to work in his heart. It will be your witness that will… bring this restlessness on, which the Holy Spirit works. —POPE FRANCIS, Homily, Feb. 27th, 2014, Casa Santa Marta, Vatican City; Zenit. org

But as Jesus shows us in the Gospel today, love does not compromise the truth. Another way to say it is, if God is love, and Jesus said “I am the truth”, He cannot compromise Himself. Ironically, the Church is set to discuss the question of divorcees and the reception of the sacraments; several European clergyman want the guidelines changed. But one of the new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis rightly points out, we simply cannot.

The dogma of the Church is not just any theory made by some theologians, but it is the doctrine of the Church, nothing less than the word of Jesus Christ, which is very clear. I can not change the doctrine of the Church. —Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Feb. 26th, 2014;

Yes, I am writing to you in “ink” drawn from the blood of the martyrs, poured out by popes, spilled by saints, shed by Jesus Christ. A great price has been paid so that the world may know the truth, the whole truth, and that the truth may set them free.

Salvation is found in the truth.Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 851

The sacrament of truth, the ‘sacrament of salvation’, [2]cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 849 is the Catholic Church. It is not triumphalism to love this Mother, defend her, and make her riches known to the nations, for she is Christ’s work, His Bride, and she is destined to be the Mother for all.

The Catholic Church, which is the kingdom of Christ on earth, [is] destined to be spread among all men and all nations… —POPE PIUS XI, Quas Primas, Encyclical, n. 12, Dec. 11th, 1925; cf. Matt 24:14

It is God’s will for “everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” [3]cf. 1 Tim 2:4— the fullness of truth. Thus, as Catholics, we have no right to compromise a single letter of the dogmas of our Faith, but every obligation to make them known so that others may come to “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [they] may be filled with all the fullness of God.” [4]cf. Eph 3:19

Authentic ecumenism is a good place to start.



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1 cf. 1 Cor 13:8
2 cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 849
3 cf. 1 Tim 2:4
4 cf. Eph 3:19

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