The battle is not yours but God’s. (2 Chronicle 20:15)
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-24)
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Again, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:19-20)
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
As we come to the end of the end of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, it is easy to get discouraged about the divisions among Christians, since we have covered this ground so many times. It has been over 47 years since the Second Vatican Council produced the seminal document, “The Decree on Ecumenism.” However, much progress has been made in building bridges to other Christian denominations. After all, it was not too long ago when Protestants thought Catholics were going to Hell, and Catholics thought Protestants were going to Hell–a time when many Protestants didn’t think Catholics were even Christians.
Fortunately, times have changed and relations between Catholics and Protestants have greatly improved, especially since Vatican II, when the fathers of the Church made a real effort to reach out to our “separated brethren” in a spirit of humility and reconciliation. Now there is a fairly broad recognition among Christian denominations that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
In spite of the progress made, since Vatican II, the divisions among Christian denominations can still seem entrenched and formidable. Misunderstandings still abound as to what non-Catholics think Catholics believe. I have personally met non-Catholic Christians who believed Catholics worshipped Mary. I have also spoken with Protestants who believe Catholics think they are saved by works, that they worship statues, and that purgatory is a place where unsaved Catholics go to get saved. Many non-Catholics still don’t understand the Mass, the Eucharist and other Sacraments, communion of saints, and many other Catholic teachings.
As Catholic men, we may feel powerless against them, especially as it often seems that some of our divisions are becoming only deeper. But don’t forget: This battle is the Lord’s, not ours, to win (2 Chronicle 20:15). It is the power of the Holy Spirit, not our power that will make all Christians truly one in Christ and bring about a unified Church. We, as Catholic men, need to cast ourselves on the Lord’s mercy and allow him to use us as his ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).
But first, let’s be clear about the enemy we face. That enemy is not other denominations but the way we have all turned from Jesus’ prayer that his church be one (John 17:20-21). Our objective in ecumenism is not to demolish others’ positions and arguments but to bridge the gap of hostility and misunderstanding between us.
Perhaps, the time has come for a new type of apologetics – one that unites and not divides. Great progress will be made when Christians from different traditions, including theologians, stop attacking each other and try to understand what each other believes and why. Great things will happen when this occurs. For example, Lutherans and Catholics have come to substantial agreement on the very issues that were so hotly contested during the Reformation, including the doctrine on “justification by faith”.
So how should we, as Catholic men, “do” ecumenism? If a non-Catholic Christian family invited us for dinner, we wouldn’t start our conversation by bringing up all our differences with the host. If we don’t know where someone is in his walk with the Lord, it’s probably a good idea to stay away initially from sensitive topics. Instead, we can focus on what we do have in common: As baptized Christians, we are already united in our faith in Christ, “given to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). The person we are talking to is a brother in Christ, our “blood” relative, and that’s something we can both rejoice in!
Once we’ve gotten to know them better, we will naturally want to share something about our faith with our brothers (and sisters)—and what could be more natural than prayer? No matter what our denomination, we know that when two or more are praying in his name, Jesus is with us (Matthew 18:20). Praying alongside those of other traditions will open our hearts to be more loving toward them. It will help us to repent of any judgmental attitudes we may have picked up about them. And it will show us how much they have to offer—for if we really are one body, then we need each other.
A wise pastor once said regarding ecumenism, “None of us has it all together, but together we have it all.” Just as our “separated brethren” can learn from us, so we can learn from them. Let’s face it, none of us has all the answers. Because the unified church Jesus longs for has yet to come about, each denomination, each individual, may grasp an aspect of the truth that may have eluded others and can enrich us all.
When Jesus prayed that we become one, so that “the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21), he was asking for a kind of unity among Christians that is unfamiliar in the society we live in. He wanted the people to be able to look at us and say, “This unity is different than the world’s unity! They have something I’ve never seen before, but I want it.”
Jesus knew that others would be convinced not by what Christians look like, or even just the words we use, but by the love and compassion we are able to show to one another – the love that he has already shown to us (John 13:34-35). This love comes from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us, and it gives the power to all Christians in the Body of Christ to become living examples of unity and brotherhood.
“Lord Jesus, send out your Spirit, and give all Christians the strength and wisdom to reach out to one another. Heal the wounds and every division in your body, and make it whole! Father, make us one. Help us to repent of our own sins against unity.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
- Take some time to meditate and reflect on the Scriptures at the beginning of the article. In light of the title of this article, what do you think God is trying to reveal to you through them?
- The article lists several areas of Catholic doctrine that are often misunderstood my non- Catholics. As a Catholic man, what is your experience in discussing doctrinal differences with Christians of other denominations? Were these discussions fruitful? Why or why not?
- In the article, we hear these words: “Perhaps, the time has come for a new type of apologetics – one that unites and not divides. Great progress will be made when Christians from different traditions, including theologians, stop attacking each other and try to understand what each other believes and why.” What is your reaction to these words? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
- How would you answer this question posed in the article? “So how should we, as Catholic men, “do” ecumenism?”
- The article contends that “None of us has it all together, but together we have it all” and “Just as our ‘separated brethren’ can learn from us, so we can learn from them”? What have you learned from Christians from other denominations as you prayed with them and shared your faith with them?
- Take some time now to pray for the grace, strength and wisdom to reach out to our “separated brethren” and be “ambassadors of reconciliation and unity,” Use the prayer at the end of the article as the starting point.