“ARCIC – dead in the water or money in the bank?”
The Richard Stewart Memorial Lecture
His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster – Worth Abbey – 29 October 2009
Lecture to look at three principal areas:
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s own ecumenical journey from an autobiographical point of view.
The theological dialogue and the search for communion.
Highlights from the Cardinal’s own ecumenical journey:
“I suppose the visit of Pope John Paul II was a bit of a turning point. How well I remember his visit to Canterbury Cathedral and the tears came to my eyes as I saw Pope John Paul and Archbishop Runcie walking together and hopes were high that one day, at least between the Anglican Communion and ourselves, there would be a real and substantial unity.”
Where are we now? What has been achieved and what still has to be done?
“I think it should be said, first of all, that some of the classic disputes at the root of our painful divisions have today been basically resolved through a new consensus of fundamental doctrine.”
“We are able to proclaim together our shared apostolic faith, because we share the Gospel as the Word of God and the Good News for all humanity; and we share the Creeds of the first centuries which summarise the Gospel message and give an authentic interpretation of it.
The published documents of ARCIC-I and ARCIC-II are ‘money in the bank’.
“Ecumenism, it has been said by the last three Popes, happens by way of mutual exchange of gifts and mutual enrichment.”
“As regards ecumenical dialogue as a whole, we have to recognise that there are still grave problems which face the ecumenical movement and that despite very encouraging progress, the way ahead still appears difficult and long. It is important for the Church to acknowledge that she lives in an intermediate situation between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. Full communion in the complete sense can only be something that we strive for and hope for and perhaps will only be fully realised in the Kingdom of God. Here on earth the Church will always be a pilgrim church, struggling with tensions and schisms.”
On the Apostolic Constitution
“As everybody knows, there are certain groups of Anglicans who for years have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church. The generous response of the Holy See has been to establish a canonical structure for what is called ‘Personal Ordinariates’ which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony. There is much that has been written and spoken about this matter over the past week but I would just want to emphasise that this response of Pope Benedict is no reflection or comment on the Anglican Communion as a whole or of our ongoing ecumenical relationship with them.”
“When Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, with a clear ecumenical perspective, he spoke about a new Pentecost. We know, as St. Paul says, that God can do more than we can even ask or imagine. So we must continue to be full of forgiveness, understanding and hope. After all, ecumenism is not just our work, it is the work of the Holy Spirit, it is the work of God, and we must trust Him.” (Story of Pope John).
Notes to Editors
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor was the Catholic Co-Chairman of ARCIC (The Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission) for sixteen years.
The Richard Stewart Memorial Lecture has been organised by the Arundel and Brighton Diocesan Commission for Mission and Unity. Richard Stewart was responsible for the work of ecumenism in the Arundel and Brighton diocese in the years immediately after the Vatican Council. He went on to work at a national level for the Bishops’ Conference, and later at the Vatican.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor will be joined by the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Kieran Conry and the Abbot of Worth, Christopher Jamison.
Full lecture below:
THE RICHARD STEWART MEMORIAL LECTURE
HIS EMINENCE CARDINAL CORMAC MURPHY-O’CONNOR
ARCHBISHOP EMERITUS OF WESTMINSTER
29 OCTOBER 2009
I am delighted to be here this evening to give a lecture which I have entitled, Money in the Bank? – or – Dead in the Water? You may think this refers solely to my many years as Co-Chairman of the Anglo-Roman Catholic International Commission and the extent of its value. But, rather, I would wish to talk about, money in the bank as an over-all picture of the ecumenical endeavour and the richness and the friendship and the understanding that it has brought to countless numbers of Christians here in our country. Much of ecumenical work is personal. It comes from Christians of different denominations meeting together, praying together and witnessing together to their Christian faith. So I am going to divide this lecture, like Gaul, into three parts. I want, first of all, to tell you something of my ecumenical journey from an autobiographical point of view. Then I will speak about the theological dialogue and the search for the communion we seek, especially with our Anglican friends, and also with other Christian communities. And lastly, I will speak about what is called spiritual ecumenism, the importance of which and the depth of which I do not think we have yet fully understood.
So let me begin with my own ecumenical journey. I suppose it began when I was a boy and I first heard that my mother had joined a group entitled, The Sword of the Spirit. I think my father must have thought it a bit progressive. My mother was enthusiastic. This was essentially a movement that began in the Second World War with a proposal that Christians should unite in Britain behind the war effort. Cardinal Hinsley, Archbishop of Westminster, was enthusiastic and a meeting was held initiating the Sword of the Spirit, where he presided with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the very impressive George Bell, Bishop of Chichester. Cardinal Hinsley closed the meeting and urged everyone to have a regular system of consultation and collaboration from then onwards. At that point no one knew how to bring the huge gathering to a close until a well known Catholic, Barbara Ward, whispered to the Cardinal to say the Our Father, which he did, and everybody joined in. This was the first time that there had ever been any prayer in common and it was not very well received, either in Rome or with the other Bishops of England and Wales. I won’t go into the whole details but it was, if you like, the beginning of a desire of so many Catholics and fellow-Christians to be together, to pray together, and to witness together to common aims, especially at that time, for peace.
I then went, after school, to the English College in Rome and in those days ecumenism did not figure very strongly on the agenda of our teaching. During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we students from the English College attended the evening devoted to the restoration of unity with the Anglican Church. I still remember, at a church called S. Andrea della Valle quite near the English College, where we assembled and there was usually a Franciscan preaching in Italian to a group of Italian ladies. He spoke always about the iniquity of Henry VIII and by the time he reached the sixth wife, the preacher was almost in a frenzy! We rather laughed at this but it indicated that ecumenism in those days was, come back, come back, not, let us be together. After ordination, I worked for five years in a parish in Portsmouth. The parish priest wasn’t too keen on ecumenism so he sent me to my first meeting where I met with all the other clergy of the area. We all sat round a table and I remember the Anglican Vicar inviting the Congregationalist Minister to open with a prayer. He was a venerable gentleman, with a large beard, and he began by saying, Let us pray for our Methodist friends, so good and loyal, and let us pray for our Anglican brothers and sisters who are so faithful and worthy. And then he looked at me and said, And let us pray, even for our Roman Catholic brother here present! Those were early days but at least we were meeting and by that time, by common consent, there was prayer together. I made some good friends amongst the Anglican clergy at that time and it was there that I began, first of all, to understand how important friendship was and that it brought about an increased understanding and desire for further unity. Some years later I was appointed as Secretary to the new Bishop of Portsmouth, Bishop Derek Worlock. The Bishop had come back from the Second Vatican Council full of enthusiasm for ecumenical cooperation. There were some amusing incidents. I once stood in for Bishop Worlock at a meeting with Church Leaders. It was presided over, I think, by an Anglican Bishop who was very enthusiastic and ended by saying, Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we only had one Church in this town so that one of the churches could be the Church and the other the parish hall. A Methodist looked up and said, We know, Bishop, which one would be the parish hall. There were tensions, particularly about inter-church marriages and where they should take place, and gradually I became imbued with what the Vatican Council had said about this important work.
I studied the Vatican Council document on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, and was very moved by the way it expressed our hope for unity. While it stated quite clearly that the unity of the Church subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, it insisted that the Church must also pray and work to maintain, reinforce and protect the unity that Christ wills for her. This was the reason why Jesus prayed at the hour of his passion, and does not cease praying to his Father for the unity of his disciples: That they may all be one as you, Father, are in me and I am in you; may they also be one in us…….. so that the world may know that you have sent me (Jn.17).
The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit. Then I took into my heart those things that were necessary to respond adequately to this call. First, I understood that the Church must always be renewed; must have greater fidelity to her vocation and that there must be conversion of the heart as all of us try to live holier lives according to the Gospel because it is the unfaithfulness of the members to Christ’s gift that cause divisions. Then I understood that prayer in common was crucially important because a change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer, should be regarded as the soul of the ecumenical movement. This is why spiritual ecumenism is so important, of which more later.
And, finally, I understood that there should be friendship and formation of lay people and dialogue amongst theologians and collaboration among Christians, to witness and work together and to be of service to all people. When I was appointed to the English College as Rector I was glad to be able to invite, every year, a couple of Anglican students to be with us for a time to share the life of the college. This was a helpful initiative. I think the Anglican students greatly enjoyed and profited from their six months at the English College and gave them an increasing awareness of the gifts of the Catholic Church. At the same time, it enabled our students to have an appreciation of a proper way to be friendly and ecumenical with our Anglican brothers. During my time at the English College, a leader of the United Reformed Church came to stay with us for a few months. He was giving some lectures on ecumenism at the Gregorian University but was happily lodged with us. His name was Norman Goodall and I formed a very close friendship with him. We talked together. We laughed together. We prayed together. He became part of our community and when he went back he wrote about his experiences and how, in spite of our differences, deep down in the Cross of Jesus Christ, we were at one. It was very moving. And later on when I was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton I rather lost touch with him but, on driving down from the North one day I passed through Oxford and decided to call and see him. When I arrived he was dying and we greeted each other so warmly and prayed together and blessed each other and he died. It is these sorts of friendships that enrich one’s life. I have been blessed with many friendships in my life with both Anglican and Free Church men and women. As Bishop of Arundel and Brighton I was blessed with close friendships with the Bishops of Chichester and Guildford, and with the Leaders and Moderators of the United Reformed and Methodist and Baptist churches. We were very close and did what we could to work and witness together.
I suppose the visit of Pope John Paul II was a bit of a turning point. How well I remember his visit to Canterbury Cathedral and the tears came to my eyes as I saw Pope John Paul and Archbishop Runcie walking together and hopes were high that one day, at least between the Anglican Communion and ourselves, there would be a real and substantial unity. It was at that time that I was appointed as Co-Chairman of ARCIC (the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission). This brought me into contact with many very wonderful people and I would like to begin by paying tribute to someone I greatly admired and respected, namely, Monsignor Richard Stewart to whom this lecture is dedicated. ‘Dick’, as he liked to be called, was a man of great integrity. He had been a lecturer in theology at Wonersh Seminary and then was called to do more permanent ecumenical work as Secretary of the Ecumenical Commission and then appointed, along with myself, to ARCIC. I pay tribute here to my friend because he reminded me very forcibly of two things. The first was to be well versed in my own faith and to understand some of the complexities of ecumenical dialogue. But, secondly, he was always insistent on great respect and friendship with his Anglican friends and would never speak in a way that was disparaging of them. In this he imitated another great ecumenist, Cardinal Willebrands, a Dutchman who headed the Secretariat for Christian Unity in Rome. How often I experienced his way of meeting with fraternal delegates and speaking to them, first of all, always of what united us with them and the various points on which we could agree, before mentioning the further things we had to do for more complete unity. There is an ecumenical ‘manner’, an ecumenical way of acting, which I learnt from these great men. In my sixteen years as Co-Chair of ARCIC I learnt this to an even greater degree. Because in our ARCIC meetings, which lasted eight or nine days every year, together with sub-committee meetings, we worked together, we prayed together, we became good friends. Two of the great members of ARCIC were Professor Henry Chadwick, a very renowned historian and scholar of the Anglican Communion, and Fr. Jean Tillard of the Dominicans who was a very impressive theologian, the principal architect of the many documents produced by ARCIC-I and II over those years. Nor am I forgetting Bishop Christopher Hill, who is present here tonight.
So now, let me turn to some aspects of that dialogue, so fruitful yet so inconclusive, that took place over those years, which has not yet finished. In more than 40 years of official ecumenical dialogue with the Anglican Communion, it may be asked, ‘Where are we? What has been achieved and what still has to be done? Where can we and where should we go forward? To what extent have the dialogues resolved the core issues over which Christians separated in the 16th Century? I think it should be said, first of all, that some of the classic disputes at the root of our painful divisions have today been basically resolved through a new consensus of fundamental doctrine. There are still disputed questions but there is at least convergence on those issues which have helped us to move beyond polemical stances and created a more relaxed atmosphere in which we speak about an exchange of gifts enriching both sides. We are able to proclaim together our shared apostolic faith, because we share the Gospel as the Word of God and the Good News for all humanity; and we share the Creeds of the first centuries which summarise the Gospel message and give an authentic interpretation of it. We confess together God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, and that Jesus Christ is our common Lord and Saviour, truly human and truly divine, the one and universal mediator between God and man. Together we confess there is one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, even though there are still differences in the way in which we belong to it. But we are brothers and sisters in the one Lord and in the one Spirit of Christ. It is wonderful that we are able to say and proclaim those basic truths together. There is also a fresh and renewed understanding of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition. You see, on specific questions of Faith, how are we to resolve them? Are they resolved just by Scripture alone or must the argument derive from Scripture and Tradition? Tradition should be understood as the living presence of the same Gospel throughout the ages, right up to the present. In the Church, Tradition, namely the living out of that Gospel amongst its people, makes present and interprets the message of the Bible in every age. So while there is a renewed understanding, there is still work to be done on the relationship of Scripture and Tradition and the teaching authority which interprets it. Then there has been in ARCIC the fundamental understanding of the Church as communion.
Communion means our communion with God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. We do, of course, have to learn to distinguish between the Tradition with a capital T and the smaller traditions, namely, aspects of life and practice which can be good and helpful but sometimes they can be a distortion of the Gospel. But we agree totally on the primacy of Scripture, which we regard as the inspired Word of God. During its long history, the Christian community reads and interprets the Scripture guided by the Holy Spirit and interpreted authentically by the living community of the Church under the guidance of the Bishops in communion with the Pope. There is still a serious difference to be resolved between the connection between Scripture, Tradition and Reason, which is more favoured by the Anglican Communion, and Scripture, Tradition and Teaching Authority which is the hallmark of the Catholic understanding of Revelation. One of the matters that have been discussed by ARCIC has been, of course, our understanding of the Holy Eucharist and a remarkable consensus was reached in this crucial aspect of Christian Faith. Connected with this, of course, is the doctrine about ministry, not only the nature of Christian ministry but also who can be ordained to that ministry? The recent development in the Anglican Communion of the ordination of women to the Priesthood and Episcopate has indeed created a very difficult obstacle to overcome. I suppose a fundamental point of reference in our discussions was the nature of Authority and, in particular the authority of Peter in his role as focus for unity and communion within the Church.
I cannot do justice to the profundity of the questions that were discussed by the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission, but those of you who have read the published documents of ARCIC-I and ARCIC-II will realise the care, the consensus, the theological awareness that is exhibited in those documents. Those documents are, indeed, money in the bank, not only as a consensus achieved between the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Church, but also study and reflection in a renewed vision of the Church of Jesus Christ.
However, before we leave this section of the lecture, there is one matter which needs to be made clear. Catholic understanding of ecclesial communion does in the 8th chapter of the Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church say something that is very significant. In that chapter it says that, The Church of Jesus Christ is concretely real in the Catholic Church in communion with the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him. In expressing this identity of the Church of Jesus Christ with the Roman Catholic Church, the document uses the word, subsists. It says that the Church of Jesus Christ subsists in the Roman Catholic Church. It did not say that the Church of Jesus Christ is the Catholic Church because it takes seriously that outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church there are not only individual Christians but also ecclesial elements or even, in the case of the churches of the East, the Orthodox, even genuinely particular churches. So by using the word subsists in the Catholic Church, it opens an ecumenical door and offers a solid basis for ecumenical dialogue. It means that full communion, as the goal of the ecumenical way, has not to be understood as simply a return of separated brothers and sisters and churches to the bosom of Catholic mother church. The Second Vatican Council overcame this ecumenism of return by an ecumenism of common return or common conversion to Jesus Christ. In a situation of division, unity in the Catholic Church is not concretely realised in all its fullness. The divisions remain a wound for the Catholic Church too. Only the ecumenical endeavour to help the existing real but incomplete communion grow into full communion in truth and love will lead to the realisation of catholicity in all its fullness. This is what is stated in the Vatican document on Ecumenism. I suppose in this sense the ecumenical endeavour is a common pilgrimage to the fullness of catholicity which Jesus Christ wants for his Church.
Nor is the ecumenical process a one-way street as if others have to learn from us and ultimately join us. Ecumenism, it has been said by the last three Popes, happens by way of mutual exchange of gifts and mutual enrichment. A Catholic theology can accept positively what the Orthodox communio ecclesiology has to say because Catholic ecclesiology also maintains that wherever the Eucharist is celebrated the Church of Jesus Christ is present. From the Reformed churches and theology it learns that the proclamation of the Word of God also has the function of establishing church and communio. Of course, conversely, the Catholic Church is convinced that its institutional elements, such as Episcopacy and the Petrine ministry, are gifts of the Spirit for all Christians and therefore it wants to offer them as a contribution in a spiritually renewed form to the fuller ecumenical unity. Much more could be said about the word subsistit but it is good to point out that according to the Catholic understanding of unity, it is much more than a network of local churches which recognise each other and share the communion of Eucharist and ministry of the Word. The Catholic Church’s understanding does not start with the differences in order to reach unity but presupposes a given unity within the Catholic Church and its partial communion with the other churches and church communities in order to reach full communion with them. This full communion, unity, does not of course mean uniformity but unity within diversity and diversity within unity. For instance, the Catholic understanding of the unity of the Church has its concrete expression in the Petrine ministry as a sign and service to the unity of the Episcopate and the Local Churches. This position is a very great obstacle for other churches and ecclesial communities and can be emotionally charged with painful memories. But for the Catholic Church, the Petrine Ministry is a gift which serves to preserve both unity and the freedom of the Church from one-sided ties to certain nations, cultures or ethnic groups. This is why Pope John Paul II seized the initiative and issued an invitation to a patient fraternal dialogue with other Christians on this very issue in his document, Ut Unum Sint.
It is in this context that we perhaps should understand the response of Pope Benedict XVI to a number of requests over the past few years to the Holy See from groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church and are willing to declare that they share a common Catholic faith and accept the Petrine ministry as willed by Christ for his Church. As everybody knows, there are certain groups of Anglicans who for years have nurtured hopes of new ways of embracing unity with the Catholic Church. The generous response of the Holy See has been to establish a canonical structure for what is called ‘Personal Ordinariates’ which will allow former Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony. There is much that has been written and spoken about this matter over the past week but I would just want to emphasise that this response of Pope Benedict is no reflection or comment on the Anglican Communion as a whole or of our ongoing ecumenical relationship with them. Indeed, I think it true to say that this was one of the reasons why this particular provision for Anglicans who wished to enter into full communion in 1993-94 was not implemented. At that time, Cardinal Hume, Bishop Alan Clark of East Anglia, the then Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster – now Archbishop Vincent Nichols – and myself were responsible for the on-going discussions with the leadership of a movement called, Forward in Faith, as also with the then Cardinal Ratzinger and his advisers in Rome. It is true to say that some special provision for the Anglicans who wished to come into full communion with the Church, a provision such as the Personal Ordinariates, might have been very helpful at that time. But after much discussion, it was finally decided that it would not be appropriate to take this initiative. The reasons for this were two-fold. The first is that in 1993-94 the we bishops were dealing solely with clergy of the Church of England, and any such response as is now given by the Holy See would naturally have had to be offered to the whole of the Provinces of the Anglican Communion. It did not seem within our remit to engage in such a response. The other reason, however, was even more important. If the Holy See had offered such Personal Ordinariates then, and in particular here in England, it might well have been seen as an un-ecumenical approach by the Holy See, as if wanting to put out the net as far as one could. Both Pope John Paul and the then Cardinal Ratzinger would have been against such a move as, indeed, were the four of us. Matters have moved on since then and the repeated requests by many Anglicans, not only from England but from other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, have necessitated a new approach, which is why I think that the Personal Ordinariates offered by the Holy Father can be seen not in any way un-ecumenical but rather as a generous response to people who have been knocking at the door for a long time.
As regards ecumenical dialogue as a whole, we have to recognise that there are still grave problems which face the ecumenical movement and that despite very encouraging progress, the way ahead still appears difficult and long. It is important for the Church to acknowledge that she lives in an intermediate situation between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’. Full communion in the complete sense can only be something that we strive for and hope for and perhaps will only be fully realised in the Kingdom of God. Here on earth the Church will always be a pilgrim church, struggling with tensions and schisms. As a church of sinners she can’t be a perfect church. So we have to fill the interim stage that we have reached in a real but not complete church unity with real life. There is the ecumenism of love and the ecumenism of truth and these must be complemented by an ecumenism of life. Churches’ ecclesial communities come closer together as they become accustomed to each other, pray together, work together, live together. But the ecumenism of life is not to be understood in a static way but it is a process of healing and growing.
So now it seems to me, as I come to the third part of this lecture, that in this new millennium we need a new ecumenical enthusiasm. This does not mean devising unrealistic utopias in the future but rather a living out of the already real communion that exists between us all and do what is possible today. Patience is the little sister of Christian hope and by the help of God’s Spirit, is already ready with surprises. We should do what Pope John Paul so often said, Duc in altum, put out into the deep.
Above all else, ecumenical work is a spiritual task which is at the heart of ecumenism. It means prayer, especially common, ecumenical prayer for the unity of Christians, for personal conversion and individual reunion; for repentance and the striving for personal sanctification. In some ways, the emphasis on spiritual ecumenism can correspond to our present intellectual milieu which, on the one hand, is influenced by post-modern relativism and scepticism, and on the other also longs for spiritual experience, a spiritual alternative to our modern and post-modern lifestyle which so many feel to be empty and void. So spiritual ecumenism is crucially important but must never be a mere slogan, one understood in a merely emotional sense as an escape or a substitute for an objective confession of faith. It should be understood as the way Christians, imbued and filled with the Holy Spirit of God, conduct themselves before God. It includes faith, the exercise of piety and the way we live our lives. It signifies a lifestyle guided by the Holy Spirit. It no longer starts with what divides Christians but what we have in common. It starts with the common Christian experience and today, more than in the past, with the common Christian challenges in a more or less secularised and multi-cultural world. Ecumenical spirituality means listening and opening ourselves to the demands of the Spirit who speaks through different forms of piety. It means a readiness to re-think and convert but also to bear the ‘otherness’ of the other which requires tolerance, patience, respect and, not least, good will and love which does not gloat but rejoices in the truth. From my own experience I can say that ecumenical dialogue only succeeds where all this works, to some extent. In order to succeed, trust must be built, friendships established. It is out of this that we begin to understand the different positions that have been reached. I therefore would want to express three key matters that are extremely important in the spiritual ecumenism which is necessary today.
First of all, an ecumenical spirituality must be shaped by the Bible and therefore cannot be inwardly or purely Church defined. Ecumenical spirituality looks beyond itself because Jesus prayed that all may be one so that the world may believe. So this spirituality enables the Church to bear common witness to the world and more and more convincing Christian witness in the world. It must seek out life and serve life and be concerned with everyday human life, as it is with the great questions of justice, peace and the preservation of creation. After all, in the Bible the Spirit is not only God’s creative power but God’s power over history. The Old Testament speaks of a new creation which turns the desert into a paradise and creates a place of justice and righteousness. The New Testament announces the coming of the kingdom of freedom in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the man of the Holy Spirit. At his baptism the Spirit descends on him and the whole of his work is under the sign of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit rests on Jesus so that he can preach Good News to the poor, proclaim freedom to captives, sight to the blind and liberty for those who are oppressed. His resurrection is in the power of the Spirit and that power is present in the Church and in the world. It is in this sense that an ecumenical spirituality will primarily be a biblical spirituality and will express itself in the common reading and study of the Bible which for all Christians is the fundamental common witness of God’s salvation in history fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Pope John Paul, in his apostolic letter at the beginning of this millennium said that this spirituality always seeks the face of Christ; it means a new start from Christ and that discipleship of Jesus shows itself in modesty and humilty and what Paul calls the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians).
Secondly, Jesus Christ is present not only through Word but through Sacrament and therefore ecumenical spirituality would be a sacramental spirituality. It is based on our common baptism which we already share as members of one body in Christ and therefore live in a profound spiritual communion. Renewal of baptismal vows and liturgical commemoration of baptism is therefore a basic element of ecumenical spirituality. Baptism, of course, directs us, gives us an impulse towards Eucharistic sharing because in the one Eucharistic bread we become one ecclesial body. It is therefore a deep pain for all who are engaged in the ecumenical movement that normally they cannot share at the Lord’s Table. However, one should understand that the suffering of so many Christians must be a further impulse for all who are responsible for promoting Christian unity. One of the great gains of the ARCIC dialogue was the real reapprochment in doctrinal issues on the Eucharist and an exchange of Eucharistic experiences and liturgical forms which has taken place. This is no small thing, given the harsh things that were said in history concerning the Mass which the reformers called an idolatry. It has been a cause of great joy for me, as well as some sorrow, to share in spiritual communion when I have attended a Eucharistic celebration in another church or community not in full communion with our own Church. There are, of course, as we know, particular situations of spiritual urgency and authentic deep desire when we are able to welcome some fellow-Christians to the Holy Eucharist.
Finally, like Jesus, we can and may in the Spirit say, Abba, Father, to God because an ecumenical spirituality is a spirituality of prayer. Such prayer always gathers people together, in the same way as Mary and the other disciples prayed for the coming of the Spirit which unite all peoples in one language and at that time could pray for a renewed Pentecost. We, too, must pray now that all may be one as Jesus himself lives and lived by prayer. And this not only personally, but communally, ecclesially. The Spirit is given to all believers and to the Church as a whole. How well do I remember, in this very Abbey Church, over 2,000 Christians gathering together, after so many ecumenical groups had been sharing in Bible study and prayer during the period up to Pentecost and how the prayer, the song, the joy of that community of Christians gathered together here that day was something that will always remain in my memory. There was a sense on that occasion, as there should be always, that an ecumenical spirituality will always strive to understand more deeply and to think with the Church of Jesus Christ and seek a deeper understanding, an awareness of the tradition and especially the liturgy of the Church and try to make the objective reality of the Church its own reality. This is what happens when Christians come together and pray and listen to the Word of God and open themselves to the Holy Spirit.
So while ecumenical spirituality is nurtured in groups and gatherings, these groups should never separate themselves from the larger community of the Church. There is a lovely passage in Pope John Paul’s Apostolic letter, At the Beginning of the New Millennium: A spirituality of communion means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body and therefore as those who are part of me. This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs; to offer them deep and genuine friendship. The spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God, not only as a gift for the brother or sister, but also as a gift for me. So we come back to those wonderful words of Unitatis Redintegratio: There is no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion, newness of attitudes and unstinted love. I would say that the word should be renewed enthusiasm for ecumenism and I hope and pray that this will happen in the Catholic Church and in all the other churches and Christian communities with whom we are in a true fellowship of Baptism and the Holy Spirit. When Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, with a clear ecumenical perspective, he spoke about a new Pentecost. We know, as St. Paul says, that God can do more than we can even ask or imagine. So we must continue to be full of forgiveness, understanding and hope. After all, ecumenism is not just our work, it is the work of the Holy Spirit, it is the work of God, and we must trust Him. (Story of Pope John)