SACRED SPACE by Br John Venard FMS
AS a boy I sometimes spent holidays on my grandfather’s dairy farm. After dinner a daily family Rosary was the custom and with 12 children in the family it was beefed out with conviction.
Sometimes one of the girls would come home all excited about a young man she had met and my grandmother would always ask, “Is he a Catholic?”
A negative answer would lead to disapproval and the expectation that the relationship would go no further. That was the norm in that family.
My faith journey in the understanding of other religions has been a bumpy one. When I first heard of ecumenism, I had to look it up in the dictionary and thought the solution was simple but not negotiable. If other Churches want a united Church, they should come and join us Catholics, but on our terms. After all, I believed that we are the only true Apostolic Church founded by Jesus, so there.
However, when I came to understand ecumenism as explained by the Second Vatican Council together with it being an essential element in Jesus’ teaching, I became an enthusiastic supporter. In the New Testament, speaking to his father about his disciples, Jesus said, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:22)
To show support for the ideas of the Second Vatican Council, three well known Protestant ladies, in a spirit of ecumenism, went along to a crowded Catholic church to join in the liturgy. Wishing to make them welcome, the priest whispered to his altar boy, “Three chairs for the Protestant ladies.”
The organ was playing loudly and the altar boy, misunderstanding the priest jumped to his feet shouting, “Three cheers for the Protestant ladies”. The congregation unaware of the mistake joined in enthusiastically and although it was not quite what the priest intended, the ladies felt welcome and thought that at least some Catholics were taking note of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on ecumenism.
One obvious way is for Churches and religions to unite and fulfil the role for which they were founded. The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) attempted to do this but after a promising start only limited progress has been made. Apparently Church leaders and their congregations are too timid and do not want to give up their comfort zones and positions of power. I imagine Jesus in the background mumbling “Hear, Hear”.
Ecumenism is the word used to describe this movement which the dictionary explains as “all human relations that are tolerant and constructive”. Jesus would be happy with this definition because it is central to his teachings. Praying to his Father, Jesus said, “I in them and you in me that they may become completely one. (John 17:22, 23)
A touching story about our new Pope Francis appeared in a newspaper last week with the heading: “Orphan charms Pope”. Some Catholic families had gathered in Rome to celebrate the Year of Faith with His Holiness. Among the crowd was Carlos a six-year-old orphan from Columbia, adopted by an Italian family who made his way up onto the stage. He seemed a little besotted by the Pope but Francis showed the true meaning of the phrase “Holy Father” and acted like a proud dad as Carlos hugged his leg. Cardinals present tried to usher him away but Carlos could not be moved.
There were more hugs for Pope Francis. In his innocence maybe Carlos was telling us what Jesus’ Church should be like?