Flannery O’Connor wrote: “It is hard to make your adversaries real people unless you recognize yourself in them — in which case, if you don’t watch out, they cease to be adversaries.” I think that as a woman of prayer and deep friendships, O’Connor anticipated where the Church was heading.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, the Second Vatican Council gave us the Decree on Ecumenism. In it, Catholics learn that the Holy Spirit calls us all to be ecumenical, and that the Spirit calls some to devote ourselves to it in a particular way. In honor of this anniversary, we are doing a series of blog entries about the Decree. The first blog was done by Bishop Denis J. Madden, Chairman of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Christian unity stands as one of the most important concerns of the Council. Division hurts us all, especially in evangelization — it is hard to show others that Christ redeemed the whole world when Christians can’t seem to agree on what that means. By the Holy Spirit and baptism, all Christians come into communion with the Catholic Church in some measure, albeit imperfectly. We walk on this journey together.

“It is hard to make your adversaries real people unless you recognize yourself in them — in which case, if you don’t watch out, they cease to be adversaries."    - Flannery O'Connor

How is the Church ecumenical? First we avoid insulting other Christian groups; second, we dialogue honestly and participate together in serving others; and last, we reflect. The Church urges Catholics to pro-actively approach other Christians, and to remember that example is the best witness. Perhaps this means that when you pass a street evangelist, you are open to conversing with them, or that when the local Lutheran church is doing a food drive, you offer to help.

The ecumenical movement finds its roots in holiness, so individual prayerfulness always comes first. A grasp of the faith from study of it lets one present the faith clearly. If you are uncertain about what the Church teaches about a particular issue or why, say so and offer to find the explanation. Humility is essential, for when you meet with other Christians for dialogue you must meet them on equal footing.

The Decree on Ecumenism recognized that the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches hold the most in common, particularly sacramentally. The post-Reformation communities in their own divisions may differ from the Catholic Church in more or less serious ways, but a shared belief in Christ as the Son of God and reverence for Sacred Scripture are two basic components of unity for all. Baptism remains a sacramental bond oriented toward full communion in the Eucharist. Many aspects of the daily life of Christians also bear witness to our communion: daily prayer, community worship, Bible studies, Christian family life—as well as shared principles like justice and charity. We have a lot to offer one another.

The Decree of Ecumenism encourages the work of ecumenism throughout the Church and entrusts this desire of unity to prayer and action. The SEIA will provide more on the Decree in the coming months, and if you are interested in learning more, check out our video series on Ecumenism.


Sara Perla is the Program and Research Specialist for the USCCB's Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs