a reflection on christian unity


This week’s catholic dialogue column for the Prairie Messenger is titled Vatican II gift is progress in ecumenical movement. It’s a reflection on the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Rather than bemoaning the divisions in our Christian family, we should rejoice all that unites us.

I am old enough to remember the “good old days” before the documents of Vatican II were put into practice. Those were the days of catechism lessons about salvation being found only in the Catholic Church. We weren’t allowed to attend a Protestant service without special permission. The movement towards a more ecumenical and inter-religious spirit was one of the greatest gifts given to us by the Council Fathers.

The needs of today’s world demands that we enter into true dialogue with women and men of all faiths, and no faith. The sins and weaknesses of our church forces us to embrace a spirit of humility. It also forces us to seek the core of our belief, the truth that is never changing.

Through dialogue, we can share the gift of this truth and be nourished by the gifts of others. In this mutual interchange, we can seek and find common ground in our shared beliefs and good works.

The mentality of Catholic Triumphalism deserves to be left behind in the dust with other out-dated understandings of our faith. The progress that has been made in the ecumenical movement is reason to rejoice. Of course we must continue to pray for a deepening of unity among all Christians, but we mustn’t forget to include a prayer of thanksgiving.

writing for a “dissident” catholic publication

And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. Mark 3:25

More and more issues continue to highlight the divisiveness in our church. Yesterday, discussion boards were hopping over an article by Bishop Robert W. Finn for the online version of his diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Key. In The Bishop’s Role in Fostering the Mission of the Catholic Media, Bishop Finn takes on the National Catholic Reporter, whose offices are located in his diocese. He writes,

In the last months I have been deluged with emails and other correspondence from Catholics concerned about the editorial stances of the Reporter: officially condemning Church teaching on the ordination of women, insistent undermining of Church teaching on artificial contraception and sexual morality in general, lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting established Magisterial teaching, and a litany of other issues.

Thomas C. Fox, NCR Publisher, responded with an article titled Kansas City bishop says NCR undermines the faith,

NCR is proud to call itself a Catholic publication. We report and comment on church matters, including official teachings. We also report and comment on those who call into question some of these official teachings. Meanwhile, we belong to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ sanctioned Catholic Press Association. CPA judges have repeatedly cited us with awards for our coverage of the church.

As NCR editor-at-large (and former NCR editor) Tom Roberts recently wrote: “NCR’s bona fides rests on its nearly 50 years of professional journalism in service to the church … That both hierarchy and laity would find us, variously, a boon to faith and an annoyance, is to us a certain confirmation that we are fulfilling our intent to report the activity of the church as widely and deeply as possible.”

Not surprisingly, voices from both spectrums of the trad-lib scale were quick to either defend or denounce Bishop Finn’s judgment. Here are some of the more colorful descriptors given to the NCR by some of his supporters,

  • The NCR is contemptible
  • NCR is a scourge on the Holy Roman Catholic Church
  • This sorry rag is a nest of vicious ignoramuses who abuse the adjective “Catholic” while assiduously working toward the destruction of our Holy Mother Church
  • If Satan had started this paper himself, he couldn’t do a better job of destroying the faith of Catholics in the Catholic Church and God

Nasty? Yes. But I do give them points for creative use of the English language. One of my favorites, “this fishwrap of an excuse for a Catholic newspaper”, got my mouth watering with visions of fish and chips. Pass the salt and vinegar! 😉

Many Catholic women and men struggle with the ongoing abuse crisis, examples of dysfunctional leadership, and official church teachings on issues like women’s ordination, contraception, and same-sex marriage. The struggles and questions are not going to go away by stifling dialogue. Minds and hearts will not be changed with shouting matches, name calling and denouncements.

Many diocesan newspapers are replete with articles that revolve around the activities of the bishop. The only opinion pieces are those that come from the bishop’s desk, or are approved by him. The National Catholic Reporter, as an independent newspaper, presents national and international news both within and outside of the Catholic Church. Not beholden to diocesan public relations offices, they do not avoid the difficult news stories. And, they allow a dialogue to take place around the current head-lines.

This humble scribe is proud to be a wee voice within the NCR community.

helping each other to stay in the church

Writing is a lonely craft. It’s also filled with self-doubt. Whether I am sending an article to an editor or posting words instantly online, when I press the computer key that whisks my words into cyber-space my stomach churns a little. Sometimes it churns a lot.

Writing about faith has, by its nature, a confessional aspect to it. (No pun intended. OK…maybe a little!)Writing about your faith is literally baring your soul for all to see. This is what I believe, and why I believe it. And, this is what I’m supposed to believe but I’m struggling to believe it.

We have not always had the freedom to discuss our faith openly and honestly. In some circles, it was just considered bad manners, too personal for polite conversation. Besides, strict orthodoxy in belief was expected and questioning forbidden. There was nothing really to discuss. Theology and the internal workings of the church was the domain of priests and bishops. Few lay women and men had, or wanted, a say in ecclesial matters.

Today’s blogs, web-sites and discussion boards give us a freedom and a platform that past generations never had. We have a great tool at our disposal. Like all tools, we can use it for good purposes or bad. We can help to build up or to tear down.

I am a firm believer that honest and open sharing is valuable. Putting our own thoughts and feelings on the line has a cathartic effect. Whew! I got that off my chest! It also challenges us to enter into dialogue with others. Sometimes we find support in kindred spirits. Other times we are challenged by alternate views. Either way, we are nudged to further ponder our own beliefs and to perhaps do some tweaking along the way.

Regular readers of this blog know that I often need a good bitch and kvetch session. There are aspects of our church that sadden and madden me. Sadness and anger come from a place of love, when love has been disappointed. But, the love causes you to stay. I don’t plan to leave the church anytime soon.

And, I hope that my words would never be the cause for anyone else to head out the doors. Last week, I received a lovely email of support from a reader. His words are tucked away in my mind, ready to give me a boost when I question the value of this writing gig. He told me that my articles help him to stay in the church.

And this, to me, is the finest compliment I could receive. If he is reading this…thank you! I pray that in the dialogue we will all find the reason to stay, to seek change when necessary, and to ever deepen our faith.