CHNetwork’s Matt Swaim, who also hosts The Son Rise Morning Show on EWTN Radio, recently interviewed Fr. Jim Loughran of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement and the Greymoor Institute about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Here’s a transcript of that conversation.
Matt: A lot of people don’t realize that it’s your community that really kicked off the observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity about a hundred years ago – can you explain a little bit about how that all got started?
Fr. Loughran: Well, what happened was that The Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement were founded in the Episcopal Church, in 1898, at a place called Greymoor in Garrison, New York, and we were founded specifically for the reunification of Anglicans and Catholics. Our founders were very dedicated to Christian unity. In about 1908, we had the first observance of the Church Unity Octave, from the 18th to the 25th of January that year, and our founder said that one of the first fruits of that was the acceptance of our community into the Catholic Church the following year, in 1909. So it goes back to our Anglican days, but it is something that is very much a part of who we are as a congregation in the Catholic Church, striving for unity with Rome and all the other churches.
Matt: The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity brings up a lot of topics that were brought up this past year during the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. What does this unity look like? What does it mean to heal the wounds of this division? Does it mean that we all just get in a room and sit across from one another and say, “I’m not mad at you anymore?” Or is Christian unity a lot more than that?
Fr. Loughran: Christian unity is rooted in conversion of heart, according to the documents of the Second Vatican Council on Ecumenism. And conversion of heart begins with prayer. Prayer is the soul of the ecumenical movement. It is a recognition that we actually have the gifts of the Holy Spirit present in all of the Baptized. All Christian churches have the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And these gifts are really destined for the unity of the Church. What it looks like is hard to say, because we have such a diversity of Christian expressions in the world right now. Unfortunately, those diverse expressions have led to divisions in the Church that are pretty clear. And so when we talk about how the Church will look, when we talk about full, visible unity, we’ll know it when we have it.
In the Catholic Church, our understanding is that we will have unity when all Christians can share the Eucharist together. But essentially, it’s going to be the kind of unity that Christ wills, when He wills it, and how He wills it. And so there’s sort of what we call in theology an eschatological reality to it. It may only come at the end of time when Christ returns. But the unity of the Church is something to be striven for every day of our lives.
Matt: There are things that I understand about unity now that I didn’t understand as a young Evangelical. One would be that there’s no unity without a common authority. A lot of Christians would say, “we DO have a common authority – the common authority is the Scriptures.” And yet that’s not enough. It’s been shown to not be enough. People who all say that the Bible is the source of authority still aren’t unified. And as you mentioned, as Catholics, we believe that unity means we all share at the same Eucharistic table.
I can’t think back to the 90’s, and the 80’s, when I was a Nazarene or a Free Methodist, ever having a thought along the lines of, “I can’t wait until the Church is one, and we can all be members of the Church of the Nazarene.” I just didn’t ever think like that.
Fr. Loughran: No. And in fact, it’s not so much that everybody becomes a Catholic, or becomes a Nazarene; what it’s about is that everyone recognizes that in their call to be Christian, there is that central mark of the Church, that the Church is ONE, holy, catholic and apostolic. And that the unity of the Church doesn’t necessarily mean uniformity, but it does mean a reconciled sort of diversity: a diversity that’s legitimate, that’s extended as far as possible, but nonetheless is in conformity with the truth.
As far as authority goes, we’ve had dialogues with Reformed churches, with Lutheran churches, with other denominations, that have led us to a common understanding of Scripture and tradition – Scripture and tradition being two sides of the same coin, not separate or competing factors in the life of the Church, but rather one. And it is in the apostolic tradition, of course, that we find our authority. There are great theologians in all the churches who are trying to find out exactly what this authority is teaching us.
And we’ve gotten very close on certain things – we recognize that we have more in common than what divides us. But we still have to strive for a deeper understanding of the nature of the Church, and the authority of the Church to teach us.
Matt: You know, a hundred years ago, when the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement were starting the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it was before Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. It was before this widespread coalition of Christians of all backgrounds were fighting against the Roe v. Wade decision. Those are two movements – the civil rights movement and the pro-life movement – where we’ve seen an ecumenism that might not be aligned under all the points of doctrine, but is aligned in a sense of common purpose, for fighting for the dignity of every person as made in the image of God. I can’t help but think of how this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is timed, with those two things in the background: the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. observance by our nation.
Fr. Loughram: It is interesting, isn’t it, the coincidence of all of that. I kind of wonder if it is a coincidence, or if it is the hand of God. When we prepare materials for local churches to observe the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we prepare materials for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day itself. And I think the whole attitude of Christians regarding Roe v. Wade is something else that we need to strive for, because we see in the whole issue of human rights, and the issue of the dignity of human life, a very common stand with Evangelical Christians, for example, that was not possible fifty years ago. I think that when we actually work together for the betterment of the world, we’re actually doing ecumenism. We’re actually engaged in ecumenical dialogue, even though it’s not necessarily about the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, let’s say. We’re striving to do more and more together, and that helps to overcome prejudice, anxiety, and misunderstanding.
Find out more about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and the Graymoor Institute at geii.org.