Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
This week I’ve been working at the annual National Workshop on Christian Unity in Albuquerque. It is a national gathering of ecumenical officers mainly from the Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal and United Methodist churches who gather each year for seminars and prayer, promoting what we know to be Jesus’ desire (John 17) for full, visible communion among the baptized. Sometimes it seems like we are so far away from accomplishing our goals – sometimes, it seems like we are drifting farther away – but our gathering always provides encouragement and inspiration to keep after the prize.
I serve currently as the president of the Association of Catholic Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers for dioceses in the United States (www.cadeio.org).
One of the things we do during the Workshop is to gather for two evenings, one evening at a Catholic Mass and the other at a Protestant Eucharist. Of course, the point is that we can’t receive Communion together because we don’t share the same beliefs in sacraments and priesthood, and have adopted this two-night tradition to underline the pain of separation. Those of you in interchurch marriages know all too well what I’m talking about. But we find that it is too easy to become accustomed to division and avoid the situations where the tension is palpable. Yet, it is in the experience of the tension, the longing for unity, that we will pray and work more effectively toward solutions.
Ultimately, it is the work of the Holy Spirit and we will have to be ready to receive the gift of unity in his time, not ours.
In the meantime, we do everything we can together. You have seen examples of this in our community, when we gather to pray with our Christian brothers and sisters in Fredericksburg for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity each year (it is coming up in a few weeks after being snowed out in January!) and other prayer services, for example, on Wednesdays of Lent at noon. We also are actively involved in community ministries to the poor and homeless, those in need of food and assistance – all of them ecumenical in nature, shared among Christian churches. Every second Monday we have our own Taize prayer service to welcome those in interchurch families to come to our parish and pray in such a way that all may share fully and equally. We must always find ways to do everything we can – it is too easy to always focus on the things we can’t do, and not do the many things we can.
Regardless of what these activities may be, we must always be conscious of those among us who are seeking, or even just looking for a place to belong. When I first came to St. Mary we did a survey of all those who come to Mass about marriages and who comes to Mass. We discovered that it was quite possible that as many as 15% of those attending Mass on any given Sunday may not even be Catholic. For this reason we have to be people of hospitality, always extending a welcome to anyone who might be seeking a deeper life in Christ. We must never be a barrier to someone looking for God by something we might say, or how we might treat a guest.
I hear constantly from visitors and new parishioners how they have discovered a deep and abiding welcome at St. Mary, and I am grateful to all of you for being a good family to one another. Ultimately, we will know if we are faithful to our call as the body of Christ if we represent him to others – strangers or friends. Let us pray for unity.
We must work and pray actively so that Jesus’ broken body might be healed and reconciled. Even though we know it is his will that all of the baptized be one, he won’t do it without us. As we renewed our baptismal identity this Easter, let us commit to one another.
May God bless you.