WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Julien Hammond, Edmonton Archdiocese's associate director of ecumenical and interfaith relations, says, 'We fail to love each other in Christ enough to overcome our differences.'
Observers at the Second Vatican Council who came from other Christian churches had "an informal influence" on the council's deliberations, said the Edmonton Archdiocese's associate director of ecumenical and interfaith relations.
Julien Hammond said the ecumenical observers whom Pope John XXIII invited to Vatican II affected the council by their presence, attentive listening, feedback behind the scenes and discussions with the council fathers.
The council meant a sharp change in official Catholic attitudes toward ecumenism, Hammond said Dec. 5 in his talk in a series on Vatican II.
The Church's 1917 Code of Canon Law forbade Catholic participation in the ecumenical movement while the 1983 Code "insists that we must participate in ecumenical activity," he said before a small crowd at the Catholic Pastoral and Administration Offices.
However, Blessed Pope John brought about a major shift in Catholic attitudes. He began, Hammond said, by announcing on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul in 1959 that the council would take place. That feast day marks the end of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The pope then established the Secretariat for Christian Unity. But when he asked the head of the secretariat, Cardinal Augustin Bea, to invite representatives from other Christian churches to attend Vatican II, Bea, according to Hammond, replied that the Vatican did not even have the addresses of those Church leaders.
Hammond said the Catholic Church did not invent the modern ecumenical movement, but rather joined a movement that had existed since the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh that involved many other Christian churches.
Prior to the council, the Catholic Church had "a fortress mentality" and its identity was defined in large part in opposition to whatever Protestants believed and did, he said.
The council's Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) did an about-face when it said "people on both sides were to blame" for the lack of full communion among Christian churches, he said.
The decree also said a real, but imperfect communion already exists among the churches. "At least to some degree, we are already there," said Hammond. "We're just not living it."
As well, it said that "very many" of the significant elements in the life of the Church can be found outside the boundaries of the Catholic Church – the written Word of God, the life of grace, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, many liturgical actions, and the supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity.
This sharing of the various elements of the life of the Church has come to be known as "an ecumenical gift exchange." When churches come together as divided but working together toward unity, "part of what we are doing is to bring forward the best of our traditions," he said.
"We say, 'Together this is the Church of Christ,'" he said. Our exclusion from each other means that we all experience a lesser Church of Christ than we would if the churches were united.
Hammond also noted that the Decree on Ecumenism also said ecumenism cannot exist without interior conversion. "Division in whatever form, internal or external, is the fruit of sin. It means that somewhere along the line, we fail to love each other in Christ enough to overcome our differences."
He drew attention to Christ's priestly prayer in John 17, "the last thing on Jesus' mind before he moves on to his passion and death." There, Christ prays "that they may all be one. As you Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (17.21).
Christ draws a connection there between unity and the effectiveness of mission, he said. "Our divisions as Christians openly disobey the will of Christ. It causes scandal to the world. It's very hard to preach a faith of love when we are hating each other."
Hammond also spoke on four methods for improving ecumenical relations - ecumenical formation, dialogue, common witness and spiritual ecumenism.
Ecumenical formation includes learning more about Catholic teaching, in particular its teaching on ecumenism, as well as learning more about "the other," he said.
What, for example, is unique about the history and teaching of Anglicans, Mennonites and others?
One problem area is "what we think we know about each other," he said. The Decree on Ecumenism urged Catholics to avoid expressions, judgments and actions regarding other Christian communities which are not both truthful and fair.
Ecumenical dialogue occurs not only on an official level, but also informally among friends and neighbours, he said.
Third, many Christians become ecumenically involved through projects of common witness, such as working together in a soup kitchen, Hammond said.
Spiritual ecumenism includes personal prayer for Church unity as well as prayer in common with other Christians, he said.