At Vespers on January 25th, Pope Benedict stressed the obligation each Christian has to work for Christian unity. That is clearly true, of course; after all, Our Lord prayed that His disciples might all be one. But the difficulty of the task and the desire to avoid offending people often leads to a misunderstanding of what is involved. We may concentrate so much on impersonal programs and policies that we forget the personal demands which the quest for Christian unity inevitably imposes.
Much as we may work at this or that aspect of ecumenism, it remains impossible to separate the general cause of Christian unity from the need for direct, personal conversion. I do not exclude the conversion of Catholics to a deeper respect for their Christian brothers and sisters, but this is not the type of ultimate conversion I have in mind. An interesting case of what I do have in mind is found in Gilbert Meilaender’s article in the February 2011 issue of First Things, entitled “The Catholic I Am”. The title is very interesting indeed, because Meilaender is a Lutheran.
A frequent contributor to First Things currently serving as Remick Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, Meilaender is a deeply-committed Christian who reflects from time to time on the prospect of reunion with Rome. In his essay, he offers reasons for staying where he is, firmly in the Lutheran communion, and for the Lutheran communion staying where it is, firmly within itself. We have seen just this pattern of argument before—this enumeration of reasons to stand pat—and it often marks a middle stage in the process of conversion to Catholicism. Time alone will tell, but the argument is sufficiently desperate to be worth exploring.