Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Beautiful Thing

Today I heard a lovely sermon given by a Roman Catholic priest whose job is to preach to Pope, from a pulpit at a school founded by people who would have never allowed a Catholic to preach. Such is the presence and force of virtue that is Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a man ordained in what is probably the most exclusive stream of all the Christian streams, who is confounding human wisdom by fostering ecumenical dialog all over the world. Father Cantalamessa has been instrumental in bringing Protestants and Catholics together at the same table to talk about that which we can agree on: The Creator God, the person of Jesus, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. A professor who was the Dean of the Christian Sciences school at the University of Milan, Cantalamessa describes his as an experience in a later life of having, in Wesley's words, a strangely warmed heart. Since those days, God took him out of Academia, into the Vatican, and now as a speaker uniting all different types and kinds of Christians all over the world. He's become a leader within the charismatic movement in the Roman Catholic Church, and on that basis is helping to open discussion not just between Catholic and Protestant groups, but also between Catholics and Pentecostals... which just blows the mind.

I remember the point in my Christian upbringing when I first started asking questions about the difference between "Methodists and Catholics". It was the first time that I was told that the Catholics were "over there" and that we "Protestants" (so named because we're still sayin' "Nope to the Pope"... that's how it was described to me, word-for-word) were "over there". At the time, I was growing up in what was largely a Catholic neighborhood, so a sense of division between me and kids who I had been friends with was erected in a place that it had not existed before. These lines were driven every morning when I would walk east toward Roosevelt Elementary School, while the kids who lived all around me (literally) walked west toward St. Charles. Since St. C's was so close, after school, often my buddies and I would walk over, and challenge whatever "catholic kids" (they'd often still be in uniform... which we made fun of mercilessly) to a game of basketball and football. Nobody wanted to lose those games, because it always seemed that there was more than just school pride on the line. The Catholic/Protestant division was real, and you could feel it every single day.

It wasn't until I went to seminary that some of the mythology I had about Catholicism began to melt away. Methesco (described recently by someone on Asbury's bulletin board service as being "the community colleges of seminaries" - ouch!) is a part of the "Columbus Consortium of Theological Schools" which is a loose association of a United Methodist school, a Lutheran school (Trinity Lutheran), and the Pontifical College Josephinum, which is only one of two school in the western hemisphere that reports directly to the Vatican. If you attend these schools, you are required to take at least one class at one of the other schools (at no additional cost). I ended up taking three, all Bible courses, from Father Robert Bauer. Father Bauer was an amazing guy. He never gave us a test or an exam. You just had to schedule three meetings with him during the semester to talk about the books he had assigned to you. I remember getting my reading done because I really enjoyed talking, and mostly listening, to him talk about the Bible. He presented to me a very orthodox view of the Bible that was rich and deep. I'm still living off that which I learned from him, even until this day.

A Silesian priest (an order committed to serving children), Father Bauer lived with the other Silesian priests in the floors above the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus. Each Sunday, he would go to the only maximum security juvenile detention facility in Worthington to offer mass to kids, which generated great stories for us in class. He offered me nothing but kindness when as a young youth pastor, he invited me to come see the Silesian Center in Columbus. He offered also to take me to Rome, where as a student he gave tours of Vatican, which I bitterly regret never taking him up on. His willingness to share his time, his knowledge, and his life made the impression that Bible taught in the vacuum of a Bible study, and outside of personal relationship, was incomplete.

He's one of the most Christian Christians I've ever known.

In the kindness, warmth, grace, and faithfulness of Father Bauer, my thinking about the Catholic Church, and the Catholic/Protestant split began to change. It seemed unlikely to me that we were on different, let alone opposing, sides as I had been led to believe as a child. This was an idea that was confirmed for me while working in Haiti years ago, where the division between Catholics and Protestants is very real. The depth of need is so great in that country, that out of my prayer I heard God saying to me that the world could ill-afford a Christian faith where all the various family members are at one another's throats.

Over the last couple of years, this desire to cooperate across the Protestant/Catholic divide has been manifested in the relationship that Shawnee has with St. Charles... the same St. Charles where I played basketball as a kid. Joseph was really the one that first ever made contact with Father Steve, but by virtue of the fact that I've been in charge of our community food drive (Harvest for the Hungry) Steve and I have been able to establish a good working relationship together. Working with him on issues of poverty, the gambling issues, ecumenical bridge building, and hopefully even in some international mission work (he's a heart for Haiti) has been, and I hope will continue to be, a source of healing for our community.

Seeing Father Cantalamessa up there this morning was, for me, another sign that the Holy Spirit is doing something powerful in this world that will transcend the little doctrinal neighborhoods we have established for ourselves. Something that will be less, as Father Cantalamessa would say, fighting among the servants, and instead servants striving to do the bidding of the King.

That would be a beautiful thing.

No comments: