Frank Johnson reviews a new publication on ‘spiritual ecumenism’.
[New City Magazine – February 2007]
Every now and again you come across a book which you would like everyone to know about. A Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism is one such book. Its first appeal is that it is brief (96 pages) and small enough to fit in pocket or handbag. Then it is has a very user-friendly format: each chapter contains a resumé of the subject in question, followed by suggestions for what, practically speaking, the reader can do. It has all the convenience of brevity and yet seems to cover every aspect of the subject: the perfect formula for a successful handbook. In fact, the opening words of the book are an accurate description of what it is: ‘This booklet offers practical suggestions aimed at implementing and strengthening that spiritual ecumenism which is at the heart of all efforts to bring divided Christians together again in unity’.
Written by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the booklet is clearly written from a Roman Catholic stance, but its pages contain facts and suggestions which all committed ecumenists will find acceptable. On seeing the title, my first reaction was ‘What exactly is “spiritual ecumenism”?’ The booklet answers this question at the very beginning of the first chapter, and uses a quotation from the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio (UR) as a working definition:
This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name ‘spiritual ecumenism’.
The ‘change of heart and holiness of life’ referred to by UR arises from Jesus’ call to conversion and is provoked ‘when Christians feel the painful wound of division in their hearts, in their minds and in their prayers’.
The booklet goes on to examine the various aspects of Christian faith, prayer, worship and witness, outlines the things Christians of all flavours have in common and lists the things that can be done together. To illustrate this, let’s take the example of the section headed ‘Sacraments of Healing’. There is first a brief summary of what these are, followed by suggestions of what can be done together to promote them. It says, for example, that in Lent ‘a common service based on biblical readings on forgiveness and mercy,’ could be held. It also suggest that Christians could ‘work together in chaplaincy and pastoral care in locations such as hospitals, prisons or refugee camps, bringing the healing power of Christ to those in need.’
The later chapters offer suggestions for how parishes, monastic and religious communities, ecclesial communities and young people can make a contribution to spiritual ecumenism. In short, everyone is included and invited to participate in the movement towards unity.
And if this little book whets your appetite for more, the last 5 pages contain a comprehensive bibliography covering every published document on every conceivable aspect of ecumenism.
This little book offers many practical suggestions for implementing and strengthening spiritual ecumenism, the heart of all efforts to re-unite divided Christians. It is an invaluable aid for anyone interested in or committed to the restoration of Christian unity.