Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Humility: A Key to Ecumenical Relationships
By Father John Crossin
“This Sacred Council exhorts…all the Catholic faithful …to take an active and intelligent part in the work of ecumenism.” (Second Vatican Council, Decree on Ecumenism, #4)
Humility stands as a virtue essential to active participation in ecumenism. To enter into productive conversations and projects with Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican friends, we need to be like Christ “who humbled himself becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:8)
In being part of intelligent ecumenical relationships, Catholics have both something to share and something to learn. As the Council puts it “Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can contribute to our own edification.” (#4)
Sometimes we who grew up before the Council have “to die a little” to accept this more comprehensive way of thinking about the faith. We find that the distance of the past now gives way to the friendships of the present.
Now we recognize that our way of thinking was incomplete. We have deepened our “theology of return” to include the work of the Spirit in other Christian communities. We are all returning to Christ and seeking a deeper conversion to his way of life.
This deeper conversion comes with some humiliation. St. Francis de Sales discusses this deeper degree of humility in his Introduction to the Devout Life. He says that we are called to “love our abjection.”
To do this, we need to acknowledge honestly our responsibility for the divisions in Christianity. We have been selective in recounting past history; we have committed sins in the service of the truth; we have fought against one another and killed one another. We can read more of this painful litany in St. John Paul II’s “Service Requesting Pardon” conducted March 12, 2000, as found in Origins, March 23, 2000 (Vol. 29. No. 40, p. 645, 647-480).
As with the current pedophilia crisis, I find it hard to remain at this level of humility/humiliation. I/we want to flee mentally – not to think very much about all this since it happened so long ago or to pretend it didn’t happen or to deny that it was so bad or to excuse such evil because “everyone” was doing it.
With the guidance of the Spirit, we and our Christian friends are seeking together the truth of the past, acknowledging our wrongs, expressing our need to give and receive forgiveness and beginning a healing process in our communities. We see this, for example, in the work of the International Catholic Mennonite Dialogue [1998-2003]. There, in a process that included acknowledging that Catholics persecuted and killed their forbearers at the time of the Reformation, we have come to a deep and quite moving reconciliation.
Francis de Sales concludes his section on “loving our abjection” by saying:
“I have suggested certain things to you which have perhaps been difficult to hear, but, believe me, they will be sweet to practice.” [Part III, Chapter 6]
The sweetness of course is in the reconciliation and in the humble joy of doing God’s will.
Father John W. Crossin, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, is director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and interreligious Affairs.