One can imagine that Cardinal Kasper has feelings akin to those experienced by an old school salesman in a world of cell phones and web conferences. For them, it is all about the meet and greet, the personal connection, and the bond formed between men. He is still doing his job the same way he always has and to the best of his ability, yet it just doesn’t seem to work anymore. He hasn’t changed, but the job has.
Cardinal Kasper, the Church’s head ecumenist, is 77 years old and rumor has it his retirement is imminent. In a press conference the Cardinal spoke about the end of his tenure. In his remarks he looked backwards and forwards. The theme of his remarks, as always, is dialogue.
Commenting on the current state of ecumenical and inter-religious relations, he said that personal relations of respect, esteem, confidence and friendship are vital to successful dialogue.
“Whenever such relations are missing, there cannot be any fruitful dialogue, which is always a dialogue of life. Ecumenism is not done from one’s desk. Dialogue is life. Dialogue is an integral part of the life of the Church.”
Referring to today’s environment, he said that the ecumenical groundwork in place now is a “sound network of human relationships with Christians” which is durable and solid. This network, the cardinal said, will help achieve further progress.
This, he said, “is the real ecumenical innovation,” adding that “the focus and the soul of such a lively ecumenism is spiritual ecumenism.
It is without question that Cardinal Kasper has served his Church and God well. But one cannot help but wonder if “dialogue” in all its euphemistic dubiousness has, for some in the aging ecumenical movement, become the end rather than the means.
Cardinal Kasper, with his ode to dialogue, certainly means well and his remarks are certainly worth contemplating. Dialogue and interpersonal relationships built on mutual respect certainly play a role in any successful ecumenical endeavor. We are human after all. But such continued emphasis on dialogue over everything else seems permeated by a fermenting gassiness without the pleasure of beer as the end product.
It is worth noting that the most monumental ecumenical gesture in generations was not produced by such dialogue ad nauseum. Scant was the old school “dialogue”, it emerged from consideration of the differences between faiths, the real needs of souls today, and its required generosity of action. I refer of course to Pope Benedict’s inspired offer of a Catholic Ordinariate for Anglicans who seek union with the Church but would like to retain their Anglican traditions.
When the announcement of this great ecumenical offer came, Cardinal Kasper was a thousand miles from the nearest microphone and was apparently only informed a few moments before the rest of us were. The rest of the old school ecumenical movement were equally surprised and uniformly aghast. How could this be? Where was the dialogue? The multi-faith committee meetings?
At the time I could not help but be reminded of the Dr. Seuss Christmas classic, the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. You’ll remember, of course, the Grinch sitting high upon Mt. Crumpet hearing the sounds of Christmas rise up from the valley below. How could Christmas come when he had stolen everything? The narrator intones…
He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!
I think that perhaps the some of the same applies to the ecumenical movement. They have so long been caught up in the trappings of ecumenism that they sometimes lose sight of the real meaning, to draw ever more people to Christ and His Church.
So as the Pope made this amazing gesture of unity and love, the ecumenists were left puzzling until their puzzlers were sore. But the answer is simple. The Pope saw a need and acted with love and generosity. Were some feelings hurt? Perhaps. But the Pope showed what ecumenism is really all about. And I know that for the many who longed for unity and witnessed what the Pope had done, their hearts grew three sizes that day.