A New Era of Ecumenism

An easy-print PDF of the discussion guide is available here.

Start your meeting with the Sign of the Cross and a prayer
Someone read: A reading from John 17:20-23

'I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Read the Reflection:
Hello and blessings to all Marist laity and Marian Mothers.
My name is Fr Carl Telford and some of you may remember me from my days with the Marist Messenger. I want to talk with you today about Ecumenism and our Catholic commitment to Unity.

(By CS sm) Our Lady is always nurturing, fostering and bringing unity, peace and calm. She is inspired by the Holy Spirit to help us as Marist disciples of Jesus following her spirit to reconcile and bring concord in the family of the Church. Our Lady is still concerned today that the Body of the Christ, the Church, be united in faith and love. We call that Holy Spirit-given love for the unity of all Christians 'ecumenism'. I guess she is like a mother saying "you kids stop fighting!" Ecumenism was born from the movement of the Holy Spirit in the last 100 years among many Christians and was given official ratification at Vatican II which discerned it was a sign of the time. It is a deep desire and longing that Christians be one as Jesus and the Father are one.

Most of us know ecumenism from firsthand experience. My grandfather was a Presbyterian and my sister-in-law is Anglican. I have had the privilege of being able to work as a priest alongside other ministers in a variety of ways. I am sure you could all share your own ecumenical family stories.

Ecumenism at the grass roots level will change and transform our hearts with a deeper love for unity. We need that grace urgently. Bev and I have been on the New Zealand Bishops Committee for Ecumenism for some years and the Catholic Church at all levels is committed to searching and working towards unity. But the spring of ecumenism that blossomed after Vatican II is faded so we need a new mature commitment to dedicate ourselves to converted Christian hearts. Can you do anything in your own local area to get closer to baptised women and men of other denominations? Even share your love for Our Lady and her presence in the Church? Could you inform your PP that you are available to do something ecumenical this year? The busy man would surely welcome your help or that of your group? Could you pray with other Christians before Pentecost in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity?

However we are not yet at the stage of being able to share Holy Communion which the Catholic Church sees as a goal to be achieved when we believe the same truths. That day is not yet here. We long for it but cannot pretend we are one. We have differences that are painful for us to see. Intercommunion would gloss over them and could pretend they do not exist. Ecumenism is the work of generations. We will not overcome centuries of divisions in one day. But as Marists and as Catholic's we should all do our part in that quest for unity and love.

Naturally it is a topic close to the heart of Pope Francis with his gift of helping us to see the love of Christ for all. He wrote in his Encyclical letter Evangelii Gaudium (para.s238-258) about the need for dialogue with other Christians, as well as with those of other religions or none.
The Pope says: Commitment to ecumenism responds to the prayer of the Lord Jesus that "they may all be one" (Jn 17:21). The credibility of the Christian message would be much greater if Christians could overcome their divisions and the Church could realize "the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her children who, though joined to her by baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her".(EG 192) We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God's face. Trusting others is an art and peace is an art. Jesus told us: "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Mt 5:9). In taking up this task, also among ourselves, we fulfil the ancient prophecy: "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares" (Is 2:4).

In this perspective, ecumenism can be seen as a contribution to the unity of the human family Given the seriousness of the counter-witness of division among Christians, particularly in Asia and Africa, the search for paths to unity becomes all the more urgent. Missionaries on those continents often mention the criticisms, complaints and ridicule to which the scandal of divided Christians gives rise. If we concentrate on the convictions we share, and if we keep in mind the principle of the hierarchy of truths, we will be able to progress decidedly towards common expressions of proclamation, service and witness. The immense numbers of people who have not received the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot leave us indifferent. Consequently, commitment to a unity which helps them to accept Jesus Christ can no longer be a matter of mere diplomacy or forced compliance, but rather an indispensable path to evangelization. Signs of division between Christians in countries ravaged by violence add further causes of conflict on the part of those who should instead be a leaven of peace.

He stresses that we need to put aside suspicion and mistrust. I remember as a pupil at a Catholic school 50 years ago, learning anti-protestant chants from other pupils! So we must first unlearn prejudice. What prejudices am I called to leave behind?

We must also learn to feel the pain of our divisions. Christ does not want his disciples divided. In a world of great divisions already, that is a scandal, a stumbling block to non-Christians. This should drive us to our knees to beg for unity amongst us, the followers of Jesus our Lord, Son of Mary. There is also something else of significance; we believe as Catholics "the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic" which means the Church is already one, as Mary's child is not cut up. Christ is one. The Body of Christ has these 4 permanent gifts so Ecumenism does not mean our work putting his Church together - our problem is that we, his followers, are divided. Yet we can learn so much from each other. It is important that we remember as Catholics that we will come away richer from ecumenical action as we learn from our Christian sisters and brothers e.g. their love for Scripture, for mission, for the poor, for prayer.

Are not Christian disciples and mothers and fathers the same world-wide? Pope Francis says : "How many important things unite us!" He is asking us to work together and show a united Christian witness. Pope Francis concludes his words on ecumenism by saying ( para 258) "Starting from certain social issues of great importance for the future of humanity, I have tried to make explicit once again the inescapable social dimension of the Gospel message and to encourage all Christians to demonstrate it by their words, attitudes and deeds".
Come Holy Spirit

Share your responses:

What first-hand ecumenical stories can you share?

What do you think Jesus hopes for in his prayer "that they all might be one"?

Have you ever thought of ecumenism as 'an indispensable part of evangelisation'? How might that increase your interest and commitment to it?

How is 'community ecumenism;' different from 'family ecumenism' for you?

What initiatives are there in your area towards common proclamation, services and witness?

No. 7. From our Charter
for your reflection this month

A Christian mother nurtures a love for Christ in her children and encourages them to live a Christ-like life.

"And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature and in favour with God and people." Luke 2:52

Prayer Time:
For your own intentions and other needs
Conclude the meeting with the following:

ROADS by Joy Cowley (from Aotearoa Psalms)

I enjoy looking at other people's roads.
They are different from mine
and yet basically the same.
They all facilitate journey
from here to there, self to other,
and they are all inter-connected.

The fact that I love my own road
with its comfortable landmarks and familiar faces,
doesn't restrict my appreciation
of someone else's neighbourhood.

And if I go into another area
and walk a mile or two with someone else,
I return as a larger being.
The love of my own road is deepened,
the appreciation of other roads is widened
and I am blessed in the knowledge
that all roads lead to God.