Tuesday, October 31, 2017

patience, mutual forbearance, and above all, hope

There cannot be any union of the church tonight in the Supper of the Lord—not yet. God willing, the union that perhaps we sense moving among us tonight is the union of the church in the Word. “You are made clean by the word I have spoken to you.” For tonight, that is enough. 

The Lord has spoken the word, and he is The Word. “The Word was in the beginning with God, and the Word was God.” He is the vine, we are the branches. In spite of our sad divisions, here we are for this one moment in time and eternity, here together in this space, “made clean by the word he has spoken and by the Word (the Logos) that he is.”
Fleming Rutledge, October 22, 2017

Gathered together, in the Malloy chapel, which always feels like an ark, but especially today, the theology department at Notre Dame offered up a simple prayer service commemorating the five hundredth centenary of the Reformation. The thought had not occurred to me, until Prof. Arner mentioned it in class, that this was the first centenary of the Reformation that has occurred since the ecumenical movements of the twentieth century. 1917 was before Congar, before the World Council of Churches, before Vatican II—Lumen Gentium, Unitatis Redintegratiobefore John Paul II and Ut Unum Sint, before the spiritual ecumenism, before bi-lateral dialogues, and jointly signed documents. How shocking to see that the Holy Spirit is tangibly at work in the world. It is one thing to write a paper on spiritual ecumenism, and it's another—better, brighter, richer—thing to do it.

It was unexpectedly moving to witness professors gathered together in prayer—certainly a rare sight for me—in front of the Malloy Chapel cross, praying to the God hanging there, acknowledging that we have wounded his broken body even more.

My cheeks flush as we sing the Old 100th. I am baffled as they tingle and (I can feel them) turn bright red, without a readily apparent reason until I realize—this is fun. I scan the room and take in the nerdy students with quizzical faces, the Malloy chapel regulars, and the three be-spectacled professors all dressed in identical silhouettes of suit-coats in the front row. Here are Jesuits and sisters, Lutherans and Catholics, and small pockets of different communities all gathered together, to here, together, acknowledge our common differences, but a deeper faith.

It is obvious, isn't it, that we should all be ultimately unified around this table? Varying, of course, in our manner of worship and our commitments, but ultimately and fundamentally, we find our meaning here. We are all dedicating our lives—or at least a few of their best years—to learning to follow the first greatest commandment, and love the Lord with all our minds. It seems obvious, then, that we are unified more deeply than our differences. But obvious things are usually the most worth stating. Like: this is true, Credo in Unum Deum, and I love you, because they are the things most easily forgotten. And, when stated, they have singular power.

That is the grace of that prayer service: the statement of the obvious. But the obvious which is actually obscured too often by our egos and our differences. By all of the stuff that is us and is not Christ. If thou couldst empty all thyself of self...I think. That's one of the projects of ecumenism for sure: to empty one's confession of all that is not Christ, so that he might fill thee with himself instead.

My liturgy professor from the spring gave the homily the way he gives class lectures: quintessentially homespun Minnesota hotdish sermon, laced with equal parts simple sincerity and sarcasm. Prof. Arner's face responds with excitement as the professor continually lists events we have discussed in class, and quotes documents we've read. There is a real sense of that academic work in the cramped O'Shaughnessy classroom bearing fruit here. Arner's delight in this practical exercise in unity radiates throughout the room. His relishing in this rare moment of unity is a semester's worth of teaching moments right there.

"I go to church for an hour on Sunday, then go back to being a member of the world? That's a joke"—Betz, in class.
This is a gathering of people to whom Christianity is not a joke.
They are serious enough about it and human enough that they will fight over it. If only we were Christ, then we would never make victims of one another. But we do, because we are human and we haven't yet learned how to love something without also hurting it.
"Only love finds drama in everything," says Dan Roth.

That's grace.

As we pray, my face flushes with fun again. Part of spiritual ecumenism is acknowledging that unity can only come from within. As the Spirit of Christ draws the Body of Christ together, the brokenness of each her members must be healed as well. We pray to "bend what is inflexible." I stand in front and to the left of the most inflexible person I have ever met (except for myself). And I pray for what unity is broken between us—between me and all the other people in my life I tend to break things with—to be restored to wholeness as well. I pray that I can let go of attachments that thwart love, and offer myself up to a continual reformation into the image of the God who hangs above me on the cross.

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