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Ecumenism: "The Bond of Peace" (Eph. 4:3)

by Fr. William O'Neill, S.J.

Moved by the same Spirit, Christian Churches throughout the world have celebrated the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” for over a hundred years. By observing this “octave of prayer for visible Christian unity,” our Catholic bishops write, “Christians move toward the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper ‘that they all may be one’ (cf. John 17:21).” As Fr. Gillespie reminded us last week, the fruits of our ecumenical efforts to “preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) are evident in Holy Trinity’s many interfaith initiatives marking the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. And King himself reminds us that “our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional,” transcending “our race, our tribe, our class and our nation.”

The Roman Catholic Church fully embraced the modern ecumenical movement in Vatican II’s Conciliar Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio (Nov. 21, 1964). Acknowledging our “real but imperfect communion,” the Decree states that all Christians “though in different ways, long for the one visible Church of God, a Church truly universal and set forth into the world that the world may be converted to the Gospel and so be saved, to the glory of God.” In the wake of the Council, the Vatican initiated a series of international dialogues with various churches, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed Churches, Methodists, Disciples of Christ, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, the World Baptist Alliance, and certain groups of Pentecostals and Evangelicals. One of the most notable achievements of these dialogues is certainly the 1999 “Joint Declaration on Justification” between the Vatican and the Luther World Federation.

Our international dialogues are complemented by parallel national dialogues, and by 1966 dialogues had begun with five different churches, and more have been established since then. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is also now a participant in Christian Churches Together in the USA, a new ecumenical forum comprising churches from all the major streams of Christianity.”

On Sunday, January 22, we will consider the fruits of one such national dialogue undertaken between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches (ARC). Our most recent

dialogue is centered upon reconciliation, not only of our respective Churches, but of the deep divisions that have riven our country. In our conversation after the 9:30am Mass on Sunday, January 22, (10:15am, Trinity Hall), we will explore the joint contributions of our Churches to climate change and ecological degradation. Our ecumenical collaboration, I believe, can inspire and motivate efforts to preserve “our common home” where political will is often wanting. Indeed, our respective theological traditions, represented by Pope Francis and Rowan Williams, Archbishop Emeritus, support a worldview in which communion in the common good is extended to all of nature. Like Matthew’s steward (Mt. 15:32), we have drawn from what is old and new in seeking to restore our global commons in a just and sustainable fashion.


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