Why aren’t more Millennials involved in ecumenism?

Succulents in different colours in white vases against white backdrop

The Catholic blogosphere is full of it: Millennials are more religiously conservatives than the previous generations. They like to be intoxicated by incense and are increasingly flocking to the Traditional Latin Mass, or Novus Ordo Masses in parishes that actually read the documents of Vatican II. Vocations are booming in conservative orders. Women are, oh-my-word, veiling, from the charismatic gatherings of Youth 2000 to the Masses of Juventutem and everything in between. It applies to most of us, from the people who wouldn’t be seen dead at a TLM like me (although I will one day take Mr Knightley to give him the full experience of what he wants to join), to those who look down on anyone who doesn’t drive 50 miles with a wife in elbow-length gloves and veil, and 6 kids in a 3 piece suit every Sunday, and especially those of us who actually prefer the NO Mass, which they see as a Protestant service that unleashed all doctrinal errors and the end of times.

Such a view betrays ignorance of what the church was like before the Council of Trent, and what the Mass looked like in the Middle Ages (it had a strong emphasis on the community that was lost in the Tridentine rite, and was by no means the invention of Luther, Calvin and Knox). The Church has always defined her doctrines contra heretica, or in laymen’s terms as a clarification of what the Church taught, as false teachings began to spread. The Tridentine rite is also, in a way, contra heretica: it’s the doctrine of transubstantiation explained through visual means. The communal aspect of the Mass and para-religious rituals that defined Medieval society took the backseat, as the Reformed churches were all about it, and the Catholic reformation was all about cementing what the Church had always taught since the day Jesus bestowed the authority on the Apostles etc. Fast forward almost 500 years, and the Church has lost the sparks of the faith, people have fallen into legalism and clericalism, and the rise of secularism threatening the whole of Christendom has been steady. Enters stage left the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, known as Vatican II.

The Greek word oikoumenikos means the whole world. If there is a concept that would encapsulate all of the length of Vatican II is the universal call to holiness. The expansion of the role of the laity in the Mass, as well as the need to bring our faith in all that we do, is part of this witness to others. Scott Hahn recounted one of the steps on his conversion story as being the realisation that the Catholic Church read more of the Bible in a weekday Mass than his Bible-believing church, for which the Bible was the source of all authority, on a Sunday (Scott Hahn’s Conversion Story). Every conversion story is different, but there is a fil rouge underlying all of them: people had misconceptions about what the Church really taught, and those misconceptions went away by engaging, one way or another, with Catholics who knew the faith.

So it beggars belief, for me, that precisely those people who don’t believe all faiths are made equal and want to keep the faith Catholic, and think everyone should convert because extra ecclesia nulla salus aren’t engaging in ecumenism. And my guess as to why, is that they have the same misconceptions about it as Protestants have about the Church. One of the main misconceptions is that Catholics themselves see ecumenism in the way the Protestant churches see it, and not the way the Catholic Church sees it. The Catholic Church’s ultimate goal is the reconciliation of the schisms, so that there would be only one Church, and not the acceptance of the validity of the denominations in themselves. Granted, for the laity who is not involved with the theological discussions that resulted in the ecumenical documents of the Church, it can look a bit like we all accept that Jesus is Our Lord so we do these things like community organising and going to interdenominational prayer groups and pat each other on the back, but it’s kind of missing the point.

By going to an ecumenical event, of whatever type, and being openly Catholic in the way that us Millennials like, we are an example to others, as well a friendly resource to ask questions about the faith, and we can also learn about what people still believe about Catholicism and address those misconceptions. We can learn what people like about their denominations, and see whether that’s something we also offer. It’s cool to wear the Brick House in The City Saints Names t-shirt at the Youth2000 festival in Walsingham, but isn’t it so much better to wear it among people who will come to ask what your t-shirt means and you can tell them that no, the Church doesn’t oppress women because we don’t ordain them to the priesthood, in fact we have so many badass saints?

Ecumenism is simply about making good use of all avenues to show people that we are Catholic and why we are Catholic, and, to paraphrase JPII, say sorry for the part we had in breaking up Christ’s Church in the hope that the other party will say sorry too, and we can sort it out because Jesus prayed that the Church be one, and there is only one person who benefits from a divided church, and you can guess who that is. People who think the Catholic Church is faultless when it comes to the events of the schisms, especially the Protestant reformation, are not only ignorant about history, but have also missed the memo about humility. It’s easy to blame the spiritual pride of a man without recognising that, actually, he kinda had a point. A Pope selling indulgences was going against his own Church’s teachings, and a lot of people who never left the Church had called for it to be reformed for the same reason. Maybe full Christian unity is not 100% possible on this earth, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and resolve what we can. We may even find things that enrich our spiritual lives in the meantime, and we can open up the horizons of others to the richness of the spirituality of the Church, which most likely they shun because they don’t understand it.

It doesn’t make you less Catholic if you engage Protestants: in fact, since Catholic actually means universal, that makes you one more so. You’re planting a seed and, God willing, people will bear the fruit and come back home. After all, don’t they say that “all roads lead to Rome”?

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