III. SPIRITUAL ECUMENISM
In Christ God as shown his supreme love for the world (Jn 3 :16),
destroying the power of sin, reconciling us to himself (2 Cor 5
:18-19) and breaking down the barriers of division in the human
family. The Spirit of God is in the Church to bring this reconciling
work of Christ to completion and continues to gather into it all
who are ready to accept the saving Gospel. As human history unfolds,
the Spirit of God prepares the coming of the final Kingdom. Already
in the Church, the future unity of the Kingdom is anticipated as
the Spirit brings together in faith and love those who acknowledge
the Lordship of Christ.
The Spirit of God draws the Church towards full unity. God's Spirit
also works in the world for a new humanity through the liberation
of human beings from the oppression and alienation that comes from
sin. Both realms of the work of the Spirit are integral parts of
one plan of salvation.
The unity God has given and continues to give the Church has its
origins in God's own life. The Spirit of God is the author of the
Church's unity. Through the Spirit, all who are one in the Church
are drawn into the loving communion of the Father and Son and in
that communion are united to one another. Thus, they are being made
one in mind and understanding, since through faith they adhere to
the one eternal Word in whom the wisdom of God is fully expressed.
In this unity, the divine plan of salvation accomplished in Christ
is expressed in the world and is being ever more fully revealed.
This theological awareness permits us to affirm that visible unity
will come from the one grave of the Spirit of God dynamically present
among Christians even in their divided condition. The Spirit calls
all Christians to assume responsibility for giving authentic expression
to their unity in life, in worship and in mission. The Spirit enables
them to overcome obstacles and empowers them to grow together towards
full visible unity.
The work of Christian unity, then, is profoundly and radically a
spiritual one, i.e., it comes from and is a response to the Holy
Spirit. We are encouraged that both our churches share a will for
unity but acknowledge that, for this unity to be made fully manifest,
our will and our commitments must be sustained by what has been
called "spiritual ecumenism" (Decree on Ecumenism, paragraph
Spiritual ecumenism does not permit us to avoid the pain of our
separated existence, being content to remain as we are. Indeed,
the Spirit gives us the courage to confront our divided state.
Spiritual ecumenism does not allow us to leave aside the need to
deal with the visible manifestation of the unity of the Church.
Indeed, we understand that just as the Word of God became flesh
in Jesus, so in a similar way, the power of the Spirit of God is
manifested in the Church as a visible communion.
Nor does spiritual ecumenism relieve us of the Gospel concern for
the poor, the alienated and the oppressed. Indeed, Christians often
become truly aware of the bonds that unite them and hear the call
to conversion of heart as they meet the challenge to promote a society
of justice, freedom and charity serving the dignity of every human
Spiritual ecumenism arises from the realization that the one Spirit
of God has already brought us into Christ and continues to move
us towards full visible unity. Spiritual ecumenism gives us hope
that the Spirit will lead us from the imperfect unity we know painfully
in our divided condition to a wholeness we shall experience in joy.
Spiritual ecumenism implies a clear consciousness of the sinfulness
of division among Christians. Through spiritual ecumenism we are
set free as communities and as individuals from seeking to justify
our divisions and we are moved to seek a shared life in a reconciled
community. Spiritual ecumenism impels us to a quality of evangelical
life marked by the will to be faithful to Christ and open to one
another. It also implies repentance and renunciation of egoism,
as well as newness of mind, humility and gentleness in the service
of others, that is conversion of heart. This metanoia thus provides
what might be called an "evangelical space" an
arena for the operation of the Gospel in which we find God's
grace newly available to bind us together in praising, blessing,
beseeching the God who makes us one. In this evangelical space,
we discover new possibilities for genuine exchange and sharing and
for seeing in a new light these affirmations that find historical
expression in our still separated communities.
Thus, spiritual ecumenism allows us to be open to the grace of God.
The Holy Spirit is freeing us to experience together his unifying
power in the many ways open to us in the ongoing life of the Church,
that is, accepting and proclaiming together the Word of God in the
Scriptures, confessing together the same Lord, praying together,
attending one another's celebration of the Lord's Supper and having
a common mission as the priestly people of God in the whole human
community. Although we do not yet fully share these experiences
owing to our desire to be authentic and faithful to the Church as
we have known it heretofore in our communions, we nevertheless realize
that God makes the power of his unifying love felt even now. He
speaks to us about the contradictions of our divisions when together
we open ourselves to Him in prayer and worship, in our joint efforts
at articulating a common theological language in ecumenical dialogue,
and in the common struggle for justice and peace in the world.
In this evangelical space we are empowered both to grow together
and at the same time to pay the price of suffering caused by our
present divisions and by the efforts to overcome them. Here we discern
a reflection of the present growth in painful struggle that marks
the whole ecumenical movement. But we take hope, knowing that "the
whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now and
not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits
of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we await ... redemption."
So "we wait for it with patience," confident that "the
Spirit helps us in our weakness" and trusting that "the
Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God"
(cf. Rom 8:22-27).