On Monday, April 20, Boston’s Archbishop, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, visited Gordon College, where I teach. It was an instructive time for the entire college community. His talk was entitled “Our Common Concern for the Least among Us.” Recognizing abiding differences between Catholics and Protestants, he nonetheless enjoined all Christians to pursue what we might call an ecumenism of compassion, a mutual devotion to serve the poor and outcasts in society. It was a timeless, bracing message, delivered by a man who is no stranger to working in the trenches with the truly needy–a vocation arguably too few of us pursue.
Dressed in his Franciscan habit and wearing his red Cardinal’s cap, the Archbishop possesses a commanding presence–brimming with spiritual gravitas, but also profoundly winsome, and at moments quite funny. A native of Ohio, he received the (inevitable) question: was he now a Red Sox fan? Without missing a beat, he dodged the question and shot back: “the Red Sox did not win a national championship for over a century until I became archbishop in 2003. I’ll take credit for that.” This brought the house down.
But the Cardinal touched upon more serious matters: our national immigration debate, the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the papacy of Pope Francis, the fragility of religious freedom, the nature of a papal conclave and more.
An op-ed that I penned with the editor of The Tartan, Gordon’s student newspaper, in advance of the visit appeared in the Salem News and can be accessed here: http://www.salemnews.com/opinion/columns/column-awaiting-the-archbishop-at-gordon-college/article_24ba2feb-5ec7-5eba-9455-a152afcabc80.ht.
Let me close with a challenge for leaders at evangelical/Protestant colleges and evangelical/Protestant churches who might happen upon this post: figure out what Catholic diocese you are in, and then invite the bishop to come speak. Show him hospitality, pray together, and seek common ground. If not a bishop, why not then the closest parish priest or the abbot or abbess of a nearby monastery or convent?
Alas, evangelicals have botched the Great Commission in one enormous respect: too often they have forgotten that Christ connected the reception of the Gospel with unity among Christians. As the Gospel of John puts it: “My [Christ’s] prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one–I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17: 20-23, emphases added).
We should not take these words lightly. Divided Christians are an embarrassment and scandal to the Gospel.
Reach out to a priest or a bishop today.