A major focus of my life over the last couple months has been the effort to build relationships among Christians in the Washington, DC area in advance of this Saturday’s Unity Factor Forum with John Armstrong (it is still not too late to register!!). One of the dividends of that work has been getting to know Fr. Tom Ryan and the work of the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. Fr. Tom is the head of the American office, located on the campus of St. Paul’s College in Washington, DC. The Unity Factor Forum will be held at this site and Fr. Tom will be our host that day.
In preparation for the Forum, and as an outgrowth of my growing friendship with Fr. Tom, I have been reading articles by him. He is a gifted writer whose insights grow out of decades of work as a Paulist priest focused in the area of Christian unity. Here is a taste of his work from an article entitled “Spiritual Ecumenism: Fiber of Fluff”:
Prayer is and will always hold the first place in unity efforts because it is prayer that most changes our hearts, and it is our hearts that most need to be changed.
The conversion implied begins with ourselves, our ways of stereotyping others (“Orthodox always…”; “Anglicans do …”; “Evangelicals say…;”), our smug sense of superiority, our lack of interest in the changing understandings taking place between our church and another through the dialogues….
Spiritual ecumenism is also an exchange of spiritual gifts—contemplative and charismatic ways of praying, lectio divina, devotional practices, the theology of icons, the tradition of spiritual direction, effective approaches to youth and young adults, the practice of annual retreats and monthly desert days, methods of singing, preaching, and sharing the faith….
Spiritual ecumenism must seek out and serve life. It must be concerned with everyday human experiences as well as with the great questions of justice and peace and the preservation of creation. Through the prayer and the sharing, our hearts are turned more fully toward Christ, and the closer we come to him, the more we discover ourselves in unity. And in the exchange of gifts, what is lacking in each of our traditions finds its needed complement. The ecumenical endeavor thus becomes a pilgrimage to the fullness of catholicity which Jesus Christ intends for his Church.