Earlier this month I attended a talk by Dr. Mary Healy, professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, during the 2020 Encounter Conference on the topic of Christian unity. Dr. Healy proposed a wonderful image for ecumenism that I’ve been reflecting on since then. (To be clear, I’m recounting her talk from memory, so I will do my best to represent her ideas accurately.)
The image that Dr. Healy used to illustrate authentic ecumenism–which is working toward Christian unity–was a person with two outstretched arms. On one hand, this person holds the truth of the Church, while the other hand is reaching out, not to a religion or ideology, but to an individual. In this way, the Christian becomes a living bridge between the Church and another person.
Dr. Healy told the story of someone who approached her recently and told her that he had once been in an ecumenical group, but left after a while because he felt that he had sacrificed too much of his Catholic identity as a member. Her response was that if he was sacrificing the truths of the Church, then it wasn’t real ecumenism. True ecumenism takes place when the sacrifice is one of humility: the willingness to listen, to be open to receiving good things from another, and to resolve to go more than halfway to meet someone where they are. This is the sacrifice that genuine ecumenism requires.
A person with both arms outstretched is an image of a person crucified. Bringing others to Christ and His Church costs something. Being a bridge costs something. People on one side will say, “You’re compromising too much! You’re being too generous to these heretics and sinners!” On the other side you will hear cries of, “You’re being rigid and intolerant!”
While Dr. Healy’s talk was on the subject of unity with Christians of other denominations, I recognized that her ideas can be applied to an area even more contentious than dialogue with Protestants: accompaniment and ministry with LGBT Christians.