Last evening, our Community was privileged to have a visit from Fr Phil Altavilla, who serves as the Diocesan Director of Ecumenism and Interfaith Affairs for our diocese. The evening began with a covered-dish supper, followed by a two-hour highly interactive presentation by Fr Phil on various aspects of ecumenism. He was very patient and responsive to all of our questions and comments, and distributed multiple handouts which related to the topic. Here’s a summary of what we discussed:
Fr Phil noted that the overall goal of ecumenism is the full, visible unity of the Body of Christ. However, we do not yet know what form the unified Body of Christ will take, what it will look like. Ecumenism should be an integral part of our faith life, not simply an appendix.
In the meantime, the basis for our ecumenical efforts is provided in the Decree on Ecumenism produced by Vatican II in 1964. At Fr Phil’s request, our Community had studied this document as a prerequisite to his visit. A companion document, the Directory of Ecumenism (1993), serves as a manual of sorts, and offers some guidelines for ecumenical activities. Two documents by Bd Pope John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint and Orientale Lumen, were written to help implement the teaching of Vatican II on ecumenism. In Ut Unum Sint, among other things, John Paul II emphasizes the fact that the papacy should not be an obstacle to Christian unity. In Orientale Lumen, he encourages us to have a deeper appreciation for our Eastern brethren, and to draw close to them so that the Church can again breathe with both lungs. The fact that Patriarch Bartholomew attended the installation Mass of Pope Francis may be a hopeful sign of our progress in this direction.
Unfortunately, too many Catholics have the misguided notion that our ecumenical efforts should be aimed at simply getting everyone else to convert to Roman Catholicism. They think that “ecumenism” should be pronounced “you-come-in-ism”! But all ecumenical dialogue should be done in charity as we strive to better understand each other. We should all be seeking the truth, and should all be open to change if it is needed in order to get to the truth. Conversion is an ongoing theme in all of the documents and discussion on ecumenism.
Fr Phil pointed out that, while we often take the structure of our Church for granted, many non-Catholic Christians admire the order which results from the structure of the Roman Catholic Church. He explained the difference between theological communion (based on our recognition of Jesus as Savior and our Baptism) and juridical communion (which also includes recognition of the authority of the papacy), and pointed out how Canon 844 makes allowances for some non-Catholic Christians to receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass.
Finally, he noted that the heart of ecumenism is the building of relationships. He provided us with excerpts from a 1991 World Council of Churches document (Canberra) which gives important insights into the “fellowship” aspect of ecumenism. He also recommended four books:
We are extremely grateful for the time and effort that Fr Phil put into his preparation and his visit with us. Hopefully, the Holy Spirit will lead our Community into those ecumenical endeavors in which our Lord would most like to use us.