Ecumenism is a word that causes some uneasiness, a concern that Catholic doctrine will be expected to give in to modernist tendencies and evolve with the times. I recently read the declaration Dominus Iesus written by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church to try to understand this word better. The title means “Jesus is Lord” and the declaration wasn’t written to solve ecumenical problems, but to “set forth again the doctrine of the Catholic faith in these areas.” It says that out of love for all people, the faithful are exhorted all the more to proclaim with the Church that Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.”
I found myself thinking about parents and tough love. If maturing children turn away from the family and go on their own path, the pain for the parents is probably something like the intense pain Christ feels for division among Christians. Just like the family is supposed to be united, so is the Body of Christ.
Dominus Iesus also says it is necessary to keep two truths together: 1) In Christ, there is a real possibility of salvation for all mankind, thus 2) the Church is necessary for salvation. By the grace of Christ, even those not in full communion may have a relationship with the Church. The Second Vatican Council did not articulate exactly how this may be, but explained that God achieves this unity “in ways known to himself.”
Isn’t that what parents tell wayward children? “Child, there’s always a possibility for you to be fully united us. We are your family and desire that so much, but because we love you, we cannot let you do whatever you want to do if it is harmful for you and others.” If a teenager has a drinking problem, the parents don’t buy him alcohol to evolve with the times. No, they firmly instruct – as an act of love.
And like wayward children, it’s other Evangelical structures who have no desire to be in communion with the Church, not the Holy Mother Church who has no desire to be united with them. That is a striking realization. The Catholic Church is the only church actively trying to draw the others in. Christians are a people of hope and faith, and as any parent who’s shed anguished tears knows, even without all the answers we still need to stand firm, pray, and speak the truth in love.
God’s time, God’s way.