Old Perspectives

The mind is a remarkable thing. Some of the most obscure events are filed in or memory banks — events, in the scheme of things, really aren’t all that important — and seem to resurface at the prompting of a word, a phrase … or a blog post.

That’s what happened last week when not one, but two stories caught my wandering WordPress eye … and triggered my memory.

When I was just a young lad almost three score years ago, I was invited by friends to tag along on a field trip with the local YMCA to visit some of the biggest and most well-known churches in New York City.

As if it was yesterday, I remember telling Father Modestino Valenti about the proposed trip at a summer morning Mass. I remember how excited I was and how I was really looking forward to the trip.

Back in the ’50s, the YMCA wasn’t considered an — what’s the proper word — appropriate leisure time location for a good Catholic boy to spend his time. As he handed me his vestments, Father Valenti made that fact known. And after everything was properly stowed in the sacristy, he put his arm around my shoulder — giving in on the YMCA argument, I presumed — and asked me about the trip.

“Oh, it will be great, Father. We’re going over to St. Patrick’s and John the Baptist and Trinity Bap…” I couldn’t stop myself in time. As the words rolled off my tongue, I felt Father Valenti’s arm stiffen on my shoulder and his casual cadence come to a screeching halt. “…tist…”

“Where?” he asked. “Joey, you can’t go to a protestant church.”

Father Valenti is up in heaven now, and I suspect St. Peter and his friends have enlightened him. Yes, you can go into a protestant church. Yes, you can have non-Catholic friends and join in worship with them. And vice versa.

Father Valenti’s message stuck with me for quite a while. I went on the YMCA trip, but spent most of the time sitting on the bus with another Catholic boy and the driver. When a friend of mine died, he was buried from a Presbyterian church; I skipped the funeral. I was well into my 20s before I actually walked into a non-Catholic church for the first time.

Throughout that time, though, I always asked the question, “Why?” Aren’t Catholics Christians? Aren’t Protestants Christians? Don’t we all follow Jesus Christ? Isn’t that why we’re called Christians?

As I’ve stated before, I came to know a number of non-Catholic clergy through my involvement in community activities in Illinois. And I marveled at their faith. We may have worshipped differently, but we worshipped the same God. We may have prayed differently — extemporaneously or filled with emotion or through rote prayers — but we prayed to same God. We may have been traveling different theological roads, but the paths were pointed to heaven.

And I discovered “religion” isn’t as important as “personal relationship.” I’m  comfortable in Catholic, Baptist, Reformed, Presbyterian or community worship services.

The two blogs that triggered this flood of memories were “Rick Warren, religious liberty and Catholics and Evangelicals together” at Understand the Times {which fundamentally is against ecumenism} and “What is the future of Protestantism” at One Theology, which posed the questions Is the Protestant Reformation a continuing reformation?, Will Protestants ever reconcile with Roman Catholics? and Will Protestants ever reconcile amongst themselves? among others. And the ongoing news from Rome about Pope Francis intrigue me.

I’m always interested in theological dialogue. The more discussion about our similarities the better. As I’ve grown in faith I’ve realized even the early apostles disagreed about the theology of Christ … not about the divinity of Christ but how He impacted their world. There are numerous sects dating back to the first century, including legalism, antinomianism and gnosticism. I’m really surprised the Reformation took 16 centuries to happen. While that schism cracked ties with the Catholic church, subsequent schisms within Protestantism continue to splinter beliefs … albeit not core beliefs, but structural beliefs.

I’m not trying to minimize the important theological differences between religions. That’s for theologians to deal with. But I do think it’s refreshing religions are making a concerted effort to listen to others … to look at other perspectives … to build on common beliefs. I think there are more than a dozen ecumenical dialogues and consultations taking place.

Just under 60 years ago, while sitting on a bus outside a Baptist church in New York City, I never dreamed this level of dialogue could take place. But today, I think we may be inching ever so much closer to that Gospel mandate, That all may be one.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Each day is a gift so live it out with purpose!

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About wisdomfromafather

I'm just an ordinary guy walking along the journey of life.
This entry was posted in ecumenism, Faith, growing up, Memories, relationships and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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