by Jay Chin
There is a widespread misconception that the goal of ecumenism is for the Catholic Church to befriend all the other Christian churches and communities to avoid hard feelings amongst those who call Christ Lord. The guiding phrase for this notion of ecumenism is “live and let live”. However, that is not true ecumenism. Not even the documents of Vatican II say anything like that. But they do say this: “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only”(Unitatis Redintegratio, 1). That, for many, is a hard pill to swallow because we all know Christian communities that perform many pious acts and even display holiness better than your average Catholic parish. Why then should they need to join the Catholic Church?
Nobody doubts that there is goodness and holiness to be found amongst all Christian communities, but we must not let that blind us from the larger issue: Either Jesus founded one Church or he did not. If he did, then we are being bad Christians insomuch as we allow there to be more than one Church. If he did not, then the Gospel of Matthew is lying when it says, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hates will not overcome it.” Or perhaps Jesus changed his mind, let the gates of Hades overcome whatever church Peter was part of, and is at peace with there being 41,000 Christian denominations. However, since it is not reasonable to believe that the Gospel of Matthew lies or that Jesus ever recanted what he said to Peter, it is imperative that we examine those things that divide us and overcome them. If we want to overcome them, then we need to accept that we have objectively different views. For example, is the Eucharist truly the body and blood of Christ? Yes or no? If it is, then we must all bow down and worship it. If it is not, then those who do bow down and worship it, i.e. Catholic and Orthodox Christians, are idolaters and are probably going to Hell for it. Is it possible to go to Hell? If it is not, then I am not being held accountable for my lack of moral character, making the Acts of Mercy, for example, optional. If there is a real danger of going to Hell, then there are consequences to what I do and believe and I should do my best to act according to the will of God.
But we do not need to begin our dialogues in enmity, with a view solely towards what divides us, but one of friendship, knowing that there is much that already unites us. The March for Life, for example, is a period in which Christians of many denominations and practitioners of other faiths come together to affirm that the killing of innocent lives is objectively wrong. It is not simply a determination of the mother or of the conditions under which the fetus was conceived. That fetus is a human being, period. And we are killing tens of thousands of innocent human beings in the United States, period. And now that we have affirmed the dignity and sanctity of all human lives, now that we have found a common ground, we can move forward in our discussion about the human condition. Does sin corrupt that holiness within inherent to us? Is there sin at all? Is there a difference between men and women and their roles as Christians?
Facing these questions and points of division are awkward, but more awkward than that is pretending they don’t exist. And even with the best of our abilities to reason, the ultimate goal of visible reason will not come through our efforts alone. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said “Visible unity… is always a work that comes from above, from God, by asking for the humility to recognize our weakness and to accept the gift.” Therefore, pray for Christendom, especially for your friends of different faiths. May God provide us all with clarity of mind and abundant charity at all times so that we may seek Truth and not fall into easy illusions.