Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ecumenism

Ecumenism.

It’s an interesting word. It’s an especially interesting word to bring up on the heels of the last quote from the 1955 Manual For Oblates where we are encouraged to pray for the extirpation of heresies and schisms.

The word ecumenism does have a nice ring to it.

Ecumenism, as an idea and as a movement, boasts of being an endeavor to unify. It offers something in the way of a remedy for the fractured brokenness that realistically characterizes the multi-denominational church world. Relationships can be built with others of differing doctrinal mindsets. Bridges can be built through inter-religious dialog with religions differing from the Judeo-Christian faith.

Relationships, communication, understanding and acceptance are all important dimensions of life in the pluralistic world of religious faith. But, for all the effort, can ecumenism ever serve as the vehicle that achieves Christ’s deep desire reflected in his priestly prayer?[1]

Personally, from the little corner where I live out of my own experiential frame of reference as a Protestant convert to Catholicism, I hardly think that it can. Not in an ultimate fashion. Not in a fashion that will become the catalyst for the conversion of the long list of ancient “other than Christian” religions. Not as the means that will bring all the “separated” Protestant brethren back into the sheepfold of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

Ecumenism, as with every other item and issue that concerns my life as a Catholic believer and as an Oblate of St. Benedict, comes down to one simple matter. It is simply a matter of legitimate spiritual authority. Not only a matter of legitimate spiritual authority. But of personally yielding to its Christ given position in His design for the Church.

For me as an individual, mere mental assent in these matters without a total life response is a sure and compromising course leading toward an ever deepening emptiness full of self-deception.

Somewhere, somehow, there simply has to be a final and definitive voice of authority that can herald an authoritative yea or nay. I find this voice of authority in the Supreme Pontiff and his bishops and priests as they rightly divide the word of truth[2] and its accompanying traditions that keep my own interpretations of it from going askew and leading me into anathema. I also find this voice of authority in the Abbot of St. Bernard Abbey where he leads the monks and Oblates in the way of the Gospel set forth by St. Benedict and contained in the Rule.

Ultimate and absolute spiritual unity cannot exist without ultimate and absolute spiritual authority. We can have plenty of individualism and denominationalism without it. We can have plenty of lively and meaningful inter-personal and inter-religious interaction without it. We can do plenty of altruistic good works without it. There is a lot that we can have and do without it. But the one thing that we cannot have or achieve without ultimate and absolute spiritual authority is true, ultimate, and absolute spiritual unity.

This presents something of an unavoidable predicament, one of those inescapable horned dilemmas. No matter how we dress it up, pare it down, or rationalize it.

[1] John 17 (particularly verses 20-21)
[2] 2 Timothy 2:15