Promoting Christian Unity

Rocco whispered this link on his Twitter feed. I recall some recent discussion here and there on social media about proselytizing. It comes up again in the linked interview, but with a context. When asked about the best way to promote Christian unity, Pope Francis offered several opinions. Works of mercy, for one:

 I believe that enthusiasm must shift towards common prayer and the works of mercy — work done together to help the sick, the poor, and the imprisoned.  To do something together is a high and effective form of dialogue.

Agreed. The linking of common prayer with caritas isn’t an accident. There is a strong tradition of encountering Christ in serving others and acting with mercy, something not swept away with schism or political infighting.

I also think about education.  It is important to work together and not in a sectarian way.  There is a policy we should have clear in every case: to proselytize in the ecclesial field is a sin.  Benedict XVI told us that the Church does not grow by proselytism, but by attraction.  Proselytism is a sinful attitude.  It would be like transforming the Church into an organization.

I know many of my Catholic sisters and brothers were bothered by a certain rejection of proselytism as they understood it. Perhaps it is galling to see Pope Benedict cited in this way. But the comment about “organization” gives useful background for the Holy Father’s thoughts here.

I wouldn’t say that energy expended on switches by Protestants to Catholicism has been wasteful. Every person must make a journey with Christ and toward Christ. There is always room to draw nearer. For some that closeness means moving from an uncommitted life to commitment. The secular world to religious life. One parish to another. One religious tradition to another.

Take Scott Hahn, for example. His high-profile discernment can’t really be called a conversion. He knew Jesus Christ before becoming a Catholic. His move was less a matter of ecumenism and more of discernment.

Christians waste time expending effort on other Christians. Is it sinful? I’m not sure it always is. But it seems lazy and uninspired to me. A person coming to a particular church or a particular tradition as part of an inner impulse for metanoia–that is a different matter entirely.

Speaking, praying, working together: this is the path that we must take.  Look, in ecumenism the one who never makes a mistake is the enemy, the devil.  When Christians are persecuted and murdered, they are chosen because they are Christians, not because they are Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Catholics or Orthodox.  An ecumenism of blood exists.

I will have to ponder that last term, an “ecumenism of blood.”

The one remark on this topic from Pope Benedict that stays with me is that a marriage between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians is a “practical laboratory of unity.” When I think of “laboratory,” I think of testing, observing, and that sometimes-dreaded word: experimentation.

I make note of my one-time blogging partner’s essay on this last topic. Still fine reading. Pope Francis doesn’t mention it, but I wonder if he would affirm the opportunity. Meanwhile, any comments?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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12 Responses to Promoting Christian Unity

  1. Devin Rice says:

    John Allen offers a possible interpretation of what Pope Francis means by proselytism.

    The Pope is generally right, conversion happens due to an attraction to a way of life, an emotion an idea or intellectual insight. Live your ordinary life as a disciple and if someone approaches you in matters of faith, be ready with an explanation that is appropriate to the situation and plenty of prayer.

    I do wonder how Pope Francis would characterize the missionary journey of St. Paul. He went out to meet other people and preached the message to the crowds before being approached first. Sometimes, it appears that the Pontiff is against such an approach but I assume it is more hyperbole.

    Since growing closer to Christ also has an ecclesial dimension to it, expanding effort so that our separated brethren are connected to where the Church subsist in fullness can’t be considered wasted. But we live in an imperfect world, sometimes it is better that a fallen away Catholic attends protestant services than not at all. But it would wrong to lose sight of the ideal.

    As for mixed marriages, Fr. Reese has some interesting info on that front.

    Besides less likely to be Catholic, children of such unions are less likely to be Christian. Sometimes experimentation leads to bad results.

    • Todd says:

      Interesting. We also know that divorce rates are comparable for mixed-Christian marriages. Catholics do better with Protestants–slightly–that with their own.

      The 48%/28% disparity between a Catholic mother and a Catholic father is also interesting. Male commitment to religion is always lower than women, across every single faith.

      • Devin Rice says:

        The data of course don’t offer a clear picture into various subgroups like degrees of participation and belief in the doctrines of the denomination, social support offered in the various congregations, etc. I must admit was a being a bit tongue in cheek when citing Fr. Reese’s data. Other data usually shows high religiosity leads to more stable marriages. But how do the following relationships compare? Committed Catholics, Committed Catholic/Lukewarm Catholic, Committed Catholic/Committed Protestant, Committed Catholic/Luke Warm Protestant, Lukewarm Catholic, Committed Catholic, Lukewarm Catholics, Lukewarm Catholic/Committed Protestant, Lukewarm Catholic & Protestant. Even if that is a simplification. I have my own theories but little data other than personal observation.

    • Jim McCrea says:

      What does this say about the strength of the Catholic message in the free marketplace of ideas? C-/D+ maybe?

      • Devin Rice says:

        I suppose yes. We are just below nativism and warmongering which are at B/B-? I am a Democrat in many ways so I am a bit skeptical of unrestrained marketplace whether in economics or ideas.

  2. I always wince when contorted rhetoric is used to disparage, even if obliquely, the effect of a “prominent” Catholic/Christian’s achievements in evangelization by other Catholic/Christians. Speaking of caritas, why is it a glaring omission in the Hahn paragraph. What has he done to earn veiled disdain? You’d think the man is as low as Bp. Barron.

    • Todd says:

      Sorry, but I don’t see it that way at all. Scott Hahn’ s switch to Catholicism had nothing to do with evangelization and everything to do with the discernment of a brother in Christ

  3. Of course you don’t see my point, had nothing to do with your point. It had to do with a penchant for criticizing others with no real warrant or mandate. Would you appreciate Dr. Hahn calling into question and qualifying/quantifying your Christian witness? Unnecessary.

    • Todd says:

      No, I think I’m doubling down on this one. I meant no insult whatsoever to Dr Hahn. There is no critique of the man here, just an illustrative observation.

  4. “His high-profile discernment can’t really be called a conversion.” How did he invite your caricature “high-profile”? Why not single out Chuck Colson, Edith Stein….me? Who ARE we to judge?

    • Todd says:

      Still absolutely mystified by this thread. Dr Hahn was already a committed Christian when he became Catholic in the late 80s. I would interpret that as already converted to Christ. I am aware that many people attach the word “conversion” to the switch from other Christian traditions to Catholicism. But I don’t. And I’m not alone in eschewing that terminology, saving it instead for the path from unbelief to belief. I’m not as familiar with Edith Stein, but I believe she was Jewish. So I would apply the notion of conversion to her journey to Christ. I suppose it was also a discernment. As for Mr Colson, I think “conversion” applies because I’m pretty sure he went from unbelief to Christianity. Dr Hahn illustrates my point better than those two.

      Dr Hahn certainly is a high-profile Catholic these days. He has a catechetical ministry and is connected to Lighthouse Media. I don’t follow him closely, but my impression is that he is fairly well-known in Catholic circles. I don’t know why “high-profile” wouldn’t fit, especially considering his book, Rome Sweet Home.

      I don’t know how you come to judge me for being “disparaging.” But I’m sticking to my terminology here. It’s not a judgment, but I am presuming Christian belief on the part of Dr Hahn before his switch.

      For the record, if he refers to becoming Catholic as a “conversion,” I would respect that. But I don’t think I’d agree. Is that better?

  5. I respect your mystification and reserve for you the right of last word, friend Todd. I retract my assignation of “disparaging.” All that fine, I can’t imagine that Dr. Hahn, a Presbyterian minister in good standing, would have characterized his discernment as high-profile. IIRC, both he and his wife underwent their fair share of hostile scrutiny by family, friends and colleagues, and likely some pilloring to boot. That strikes me as quite in keeping with another infamous/famous conversion-that of St. Paul, as he knew Christ as well prior to the road.

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