Ecumenicism: the promotion of cooperation and understanding among different Christian denominations
Ecumenicism has been a focus of the Church since Vatican II. The Catholic Church obviously needs to engage in a certain dialog and understanding with our protestant brothers and sisters, it does no good ignoring that protestant denominations exist. However, the original intent of ecumenicism was to reach out to other Christians to help bring them into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The purpose was never to just get along with other Christian denominations, as if we are all the same only with different flavors depending on what floats an individual’s proverbial boat. However, as many bishops and priests continue to loosely interpret [“the spirit of”] Vatican II, the faithful are hearing a very confusing message. It’s a message I heard very clearly at Mass last Sunday.
On a typical Sunday we make a half-hour jaunt to a parish that takes liturgy, the Eucharist, Tradition, beauty, and spiritual nourishment seriously. But last Sunday my family attended the nearby parish because of our schedule. It’s a parish that is well-meaning but all too often offers a Mass that is watered-down and human-centered…all while in a round, carpeted rec-room. Let’s just say that I’ve seen them show videos during the homily, cheering sometimes breaks out following the closing hymn, and distributing Communion to the ‘Eucharistic ministers’ on the altar takes nearly as long as it takes to distribute to the rest of the congregation (literally). Of course, this would all be nonconstructive criticism if their pews were overflowing with young adults and large families with children, but they’re not. The congregation is aging…fast. The people that should be filling the pews into the future like me are taking the time to drive downtown to other parishes for Mass and other authentically Catholic events like Cor Jesu.
On this particular Sunday, the pastor attempted to tie in the Gospel reading about the Church being the body of Christ, made up of different parts, to all Christian denominations being the different parts of Christ/His Church. Interesting theory. But actually, when we reference the “Church”, we mean the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church (CCC 813-835). Saint Paul wasn’t saying all Christian denominations (which didn’t exist back then) are different parts to His body that we call the Church. The thought of that is absolutely preposterous, wrong, and destructive. I thought to myself, so are people sitting here to believe the implication of this homily or the Nicene Creed that we recite immediately following it. Think of the confusion.
And the story isn’t finished. Also during the homily we were reminded that later that day there would be an opportunity to meet with three bishops. That sounds pretty cool, right? It would be Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki–so far so good–and then an Evangelical Lutheran ‘bishop’ and an Episcopal ‘bishop’. What!? Again, there’s nothing wrong with communicating with members and leaders of protestant denominations but to have a forum in a Catholic parish where all are presented as being on the same level from co-equal Christian backgrounds is outrageous (to give full benefit of the doubt, I was not at the actual event). Even in the bulletin after Mass, we saw the list of ‘bishops’ with the logos of the various denominations next to the papal keys–as if Roman Catholics are just one of many, as if we forgot the meaning of Saint Peter’s keys.
Do clergy understand the effects of this? What this does is confuse the parishioners who rely exclusively on their pastor for spiritual direction (which is the majority). “What? I thought you needed to be Catholic to be a bishop. I guess not. Isn’t there a difference?”, they ponder. Priests are telling their own congregation that we are no different from any other denomination–talk about shooting yourself in the foot. They are not explaining the difference between the Mass and some other “worship service”. When people feel like what they are doing is not unique, useful, or different from anything else, they rightly assume there is no reason to take time out of their weekend or money out of their pockets for it. Watering down the sacrifice of the Mass and integrity of the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t invite more people to come into the fold, it just turns off current Catholics who are wavering in their faith. Ecumenicism-at-all-costs leads many to think, “well, if all Christian denominations are pretty much the same and people can decide what’s right depending on what suits them best, doesn’t that make Christians hypocrites? What’s the point of Christianity if people just decide to associate with a denomination that suits their lifestyle best.”
Unfortunately Pope Francis doesn’t seem to be helping the situation with reports that Lutherans are now receiving Communion at the Vatican and the Holy Father will be attending an interfaith “common worship service” in Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of the protestant Reformation (yeah, I don’t get it either).
Anyway, parishes that are afraid to proclaim the four pillars of the Faith will continue losing parishioners and money. And the parishes and dioceses that proudly proclaim what it means to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic will continue thriving, growing and making a true difference in the world. Luckily, help is on the way with the current crop of excellent priests. We are on the upswing.
If you have questions or comments about this, please email Milwaukee’s archbishop Jerome Listecki: firstname.lastname@example.org