On Wednesday we began Christian Unity Week; and it is thus a good occasion for a brief description of the Church’s teachings on ecumenical relations. Ecumenism is the establishment of good relations and dialogue between the Catholic Church and Christian denominations, based upon the common things of our faith, such a belief in salvation through Jesus Christ, true God and true man, the inspiration of the Bible, common prayers and the Christian moral life. The related field of interreligious dialogue is the attempt to establish good relations and dialogue between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions, based upon such principles as a natural belief in God, moral law, and the reward of good and punishment of evil.
As the Vatican Council recognized in its declaration on ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio (The Restoration of Unity), ecumenical relations are not opposed to attempts to persuade people of the truth of the Catholic faith. Rather, both efforts are based upon the common goal that all Christians may be one, in fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. See John 17:20-23. Ecumenism is also not an attempt to water down the faith to a common denominator, but rather a positive attempt to engage in constructive dialogue and mutual prayer, insights and good works. As the Council says, “Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism that harms the purity of Catholic doctrine and obscures its genuine and certain meaning.”
The Council recommended several specific practices for ecumenism. First, Christians must avoid any unfair descriptions of other Christians and seek to know what each denomination truly teaches. Second, to achieve this knowledge, there should be a dialogue among Christians to understand each others’ beliefs and the reasons for them. Such a dialogue can distinguish between real disagreements and differences in perspective or explanations. Third, there should be common efforts at fulfilling Christian duties and bringing about a more just world. The Right to Life March this Friday and the entire prolife movement is a classic example of such efforts. Fourth, Christians can join in common prayer as part of a “spiritual ecumenism.” Finally, recognizing that much division comes from a failure to live out the Christian life, ecumenism involves a challenge for each Christian individually and the Church as a whole to live out our faith with greater dedication and holiness. Through such efforts, the Council called for us to place our efforts at the service of God in achieving “this holy objective” of Christian unity.