“When a Catholic like you comes to a deep faith and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, does he still follow all those Catholic doctrines.?”This question was asked of me by a Pentecostal pastor (also an ex-Catholic), whom I got to know while attending a men’s ministry workshop. Of course, I could have responded something like this, “Well, I believe the Catholic Church is the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ, and he said he would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth. I follow all the doctrines of the Catholic Church because they are true.” I think that if I had said this, that would have ended our conversation, or we would have gotten into a heated discussion about the Pentecostal Church versus the Catholic Church.
However, this is what I chose to say to him: “Can you give me an example of what doctrines you are talking about.” He responded by saying, “Well do you still worship Mary?” Here’s how I then responded:
Catholics do not worship Mary. If any did, that would be against Catholic teaching and would be considered a heresy. However, Catholics do honor Mary for her critical role in God’s plan of salvation, and one of the titles we use for her is the “Second Eve,” since her yes to God helped to erase the consequences of the first Eve’s no to God. Because of the first Eve’s disobedience to God, from her womb came a fallen humanity. However, because of Mary’s obedience to God, from her womb came Jesus Christ, and through faith in him came a race of redeemed human beings.
After I had spoken, the pastor pondered my words a few seconds, and then said, “You know, that makes a lot of sense to me.” From that point on, he was open to our discussion of other Catholic teachings. Did he ever return to the Catholic faith? I don’t know, but I do believe many of the misunderstandings he had were cleared up, and I believe it gave the Holy Spirit a clear path to opening his mind and heart to the full Christian truths that only “subsist” in the Catholic Church.
I believe a lot of the today’s divisions between Catholics and non-Catholics are to a great extent due to a misunderstanding of Catholic teachings and doctrines. I’ve been told that Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, “If Catholics believed what most non-Catholics think they believe I wouldn’t be a Catholic either.”
The divisions can be made even worse by a lack of charity and humility, as we dialog with non-Catholics. When the Vatican II called non-Catholic Christians our “separated brethren,” did it mean they agreed with their incomplete or erroneous teachings? Of course not. But they were expressing the many things we do have in common with one another. When Pope John Paul II called the Jewish people our “elder brothers,” did it mean that it was unnecessary to believe in Jesus Christ? Of course not. But he was expressing our deep appreciation of the heritage and legacy we have received through the Jewish people.
Just as a large number of non-Catholic Christians have misunderstandings of Catholic teachings, so I believe many Catholics have misunderstandings of Catholic teachings on Ecumenism. These misunderstandings can contribute to making the divisions even worse. I believe one way we can eliminate them is to prayerfully ponder what the Church says about Ecumenism. Below are some of these teachings. Let’s allow these teachings to speak for themselves. And let’s prayerfully pray over them and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the deep truths that are present within them.
From the Second Vatican Council, Decree on Ecumenism
Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided. Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature” (1).
On the other hand, Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage, which are to be found among our separated brethren. It is right and salutary to recognize the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood. For God is always wonderful in His works and worthy of all praise. Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church (4).
There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds, from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way. We should therefore pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to be genuinely self-denying, humble. gentle in the service of others, and to have an attitude of brotherly generosity towards them. . . . All the faithful should remember that the more effort they make to live holier lives according to the Gospel, the better will they further Christian unity and put it into practice. For the closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love (7).
This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name, ‘spiritual ecumenism (8).
Pope John Paul II details the change of heart needed in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One)
We proceed along the road leading to the conversion of hearts guided by love which is directed to God and, at the same time, to all our brothers and sisters, including those not in full communion with us. Love gives rise to the desire for unity, even in those who have never been aware of the need for it. Love builds communion between individuals and between Communities. If we love one another, we strive to deepen our communion and make it perfect. Love is given to God as the perfect source of communion — the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit-that we may draw from that source the strength to build communion between individuals and Communities, or to re-establish it between Christians still divided. Love is the great undercurrent, which gives life and adds vigour to the movement towards unity.
When Christians pray together, the goal of unity seems closer. The long history of Christians marked by many divisions seems to converge once more because it tends towards that Source of its unity, which is Jesus Christ. . . . . If Christians, despite their divisions, can grow ever more united in common prayer around Christ, they will grow in the awareness of how little divides them in comparison to what unites them (Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One) Encyclical, 21, 22, John Paul II, 1995) .
I want to conclude with these words from the Decree on Ecumenism:
All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials. But let all, according to the gifts they have received enjoy a proper freedom, in their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in their different liturgical rites, and even in their theological elaborations of revealed truth. In all things let charity prevail. If they are true to this course of action, they will be giving ever better expression to the authentic catholicity and apostolicity of the Church (4).
O Lord, we pray that all your people would be one as you and the Father are one.
Maurice Blumberg is Director of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men Center (www.catholicmensresources.org).
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
1. How would you characterize your attitude toward Ecumenism? Is it based on “charity and humility” or is it judgmental and critical?
2. Do you agree with these words from the article: “I believe a lot of the today’s divisions between Catholics and non-Catholics are to a great extent due to a misunderstanding of Catholic teachings and doctrines.” Why or why not?
3. Do you agree with these words from the article: “Just as a large number of non-Catholic Christians have misunderstandings of Catholic teachings, so I believe many Catholics have misunderstandings of Catholic teachings on Ecumenism These misunderstandings can contribute to making the divisions even worse.” Why or why not?
4. What impact did the quotes from the “Decree on Ecumenism” and the “Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One) Encyclical” have on your understanding of the Church’s teaching on Ecumenism?
5. What steps can you take to better put into practice these teachings?
6. If you are in a men’s group, continue to pray for one another that each of you would receive the grace to reach out in charity and humility to non-Catholic brothers, whom you know,. Use the prayer at the end of this article as the starting point.