Saturday, July 23, 2011

East and West: Fear and the Grace of Reconciliation

The need to build unity between Eastern and Western Christians has been a preoccupation, and I must say something of a cross, for me in my work. It seems to appear everywhere, in my study of theology through the years, as well as my more recent considerations of the history and prospects of Europe and Russia, and my investigations of Islam and the current circumstances of the Middle East.

I say that it is a cross, however, not just because of the frustration of seeing a possibility so close that it seems tangible, yet at the same time so thwarted by a tangle of obstacles. It hurts me in a visceral way. I don't understand why. I am told the Janaros of southern Italy have some Greek ancestry. How deep do such things go? I don't know. I am an American who nevertheless has a deep love of Europe, and desires for it authentic unity. I am also, from head to toe, a Catholic of the Latin rite who is rooted in my own tradition and yet loves the Eastern churches with all their rich heritage and ancient memory. To "breathe with both lungs" seems to me more than a metaphor.

One of the great obstacles is fear, a profound, ecclesiological fear. It is a fear that goes beyond dialogue, and beyond history. Certainly it has some basis in complicated political circumstances going back to the Crusades, and the diverse linguistic and cultural heritages (and even different alphabets) of the various peoples of Central and Eastern Europe. The Catholic Church has done much to dispel the basis for this fear, however, especially since the Second Vatican Council, and the great Encyclicals of Blessed John Paul II Ut Unum Sint (on Christian Unity) and Orientale Lumen ("Light of the East"). But the fear remains, a mysterious obstacle, woven from inexplicable pain as well as the inscrutable interplay of human freedom and Divine providence. The fear remains like a wound, and sometimes tries to justify itself.

What is needed is healing and reconciliation, which is the work of the Spirit. For me this means praying to be open to the Spirit, and to seek by His grace to be always a "person of the Church"--in fidelity of mind and heart, in words, in life, in suffering and in love.