Saturday, May 17, 2003


Someone posted a comment below that has raised an issue that comes up pretty much daily for me. I am a Catholic who runs a determinedly interdenominational program, Act One. All of us who are part of the program take hits from the conservative wings of both the Catholic and Protestant universes for "dancing with the devil," as one sweet, but anonymous Catholic emailed me once about the subject.

It has been a difficult commitment to maintain. We could get a lot more funding if we would only surrender to be one side or the other. And we need funding. But our contention is that we need each other more.

I just happened to be reading the ecclesial document Aetatis Novae ("Dawn of a New Era") the other day and stumbled over this relevant passage. This is, you know, a statement from, the, you know, Magisterium. It represents the, you know, authoritative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. (But, as some of you will no doubt point out, it was not an ex cathedra statement, so maybe we can all just ignore it?)

#29. A pastoral plan for social communications should be designed...
d) To collaborate with ecumenical organizations and with other churchs and religious groups regarding ways of securing and guaranteeing access to the media by religion, and to collaborate in the more recently developed media especially in regard to the common use of satellites, data banks and cable networks.."

My own commitment to interdenominational collaboration has developed in a few epiphany moments that I couldn't ignore, rationalize or forget (which, I suppose is the definition of epiphany moment. Back to you, Department of Redundancy Department, back to you...).

The first came to me in my early twenties when I went through a John XXIII obsessive phase. I read a lot of books about him and every encyclical by him. One line from Journal of a Soul became part of my fabric. Relfecting on his amazing ability to prevail in ministerial assignments where many others had failed, John XXII noted, (paraphrasing here), "If I have had any success, it is because I have chosen to focus on what I have in common with people, as opposed to what divides us."

Secondly, among the many talks that I went to by Fr. Benedict Groeschel in my Daughter of St. Paul days, there was one of his "schticks" (and I say that with the utmost have to know Fr. Benedict...) which stuck out for me and stayed. He would be talking about the book Mysticism by the Anglican scholar Evelyn Underhill, and then say something like this:

"Make no mistake. You can say the WRONG prayer, to the WRONG God, in the RIGHT way, and be heard. And in the same way, you can say the RIGHT prayer, to the RIGHT God, in the WRONG way, and not be heard."

There was a visual epiphany moment too, of course. For a year or so in my twenties, I worked in Central Square in Cambridge, MA. I would make the two mile walk from my apartment through Harvard Square every day that it was warm enough to breathe outside. Whenever I would hit the crux gathering point of Harvard Square, I would make my way with a blend of fear and fascination past the hoards of very scary looking young people who would sit sullenly smoking and scowling by the T entrance. They would all be dressed in black with tatoos all over them and chains, and something that looked like challenging hatred flaring out their disgruntled eyes.

It struck me many times, then, that the line between good and evil was much less subtle than the corporate Catholic people I used to hang around with ever guessed. (Not that the young people were evil. But whatever it was in human society that had created them is evil.) There is a hopelessness and a darkness all around us, that makes a joke of the weird distinctions we followers of Jesus love to draw between ourselves. In the end, there is really only Jesus and not-Jesus. That is the dividing line.

The final epiphany has been in the wonderful non-Catholic Christians with whom I have had the honor of being partnered in the work we are doing. True, I have met many intolerant and suspicious Evangelicals who think I am, as a Catholic, part of "the problem." But I have also met many loving, unbelievably generous and thoughtful Evangelicals who reek of that mature calm and steadfastness which is always a hallmark of grace.

Particularly in the entertainment industry, I have found much more support for the moral teaching of the Catholic Church in Evangelical courts than in Catholic ones. (ahem...enough said?)

So, the point is, these are "interesting" times in which internecine warfare among the followers of Jesus must be avoided at all costs, lest in fighting each other we end up losing all effectiveness in the real test outside the walls of the Church.

Having said all that, I can also say without any inner-contradiction that I think the goal of ecumenism must ultimately be that they all may be us, because we have the fullness of truth, eh, saving stuff. But I don't believe in force feeding people delicacies.

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