The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: Prudent Ecumenism

The first part of today’s Gospel reading (on the exorcist) is often, and rightly, used as an argument in favour of ecumenism. It is not easy to see in what particular circumstances the early Church, or the community to which Mark belonged, used it. But its message is for all times. God is the creator of the whole human race. His concern is for all, even if he chose the Jews as his special people and the Church to continue the saving work of Christ. The sacramental message of the Church is limited by the weakness of its members, individually and collectively. But the Spirit of God can work outside any of these. Even within the community of believers, through what were originally schisms and heresies, the Holy Spirit can work independently of the Catholic Church to restore unity. The Catholic Church was for long suspicious of the Ecumenical Movement, believing that it originated in, or led to, indifferentism, that all churches were equal. After many decades it was led to believe that the Holy Spirit was guiding this movement, and took part. This in time led to the openness on this, and many other matters, in the Second Vatican Council. Belief in God and in Jesus as saviour of all people should lead to genuine ecumenism.

Exorcism in Christ’s day was the casting out of demons, probably involving the cure of some forms of epilepsy. The demons today withstanding the coming of the kingdom of God are not medical conditions, but rather the attempts to remove the Church, Christ’s kingdom on earth, from any place in public life, to establish a fully a secular and secularist way of thought and life.. Its proponents speak openly against any Christian move that might try to oppose of counteract them. Defence of the Christian worldview and way of life against those is by believing non-Catholics as well as Catholics. Christ’s message to Catholics today is not to oppose such people. “Anyone who is not against us is for us”.

There remains the danger that essential truths may be sacrificed in a drive towards external unity, something we are made aware of in the Holy Father’s dealings with some of the Reformation churches. True ecumenism should originate in, and lead to, deep faith in Christ. It has to be aware of how many believers, sensitive to dangers to the faith, might be affected. These would be the “little ones” of the second part of today’s Gospel. It often requires tact to combine ecumenism and attention to how some of the faithful might perceive this.

The readings give much thought for reflection, not just in general or for one’s own particular circumstance. Ecumenism and interfaith relations in the broader sense are not just between Churches and other religions. Belief in God’s plan for our age means openness to a whole range of matters. It means dialogue with the world in which we live, all the while attentive that we do not endanger the faith of “the little ones”, or lose our own selves, our immortal souls, in the process.

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