Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Catholic/Orthodox Dialog on Formation?

I received the following comment on an earlier post ("The Parish: Mission or Maintenance?"). The author is Sherry W. a contributor to Intentional Disciples and co-director of the Catherine of Siena Institute. I have include Sherry's comment in italics and my response below in normal type.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Sherry W has left a new comment on your post "The Parish: Mission or Maintenance?":

Hi Fr. Gregory:
This is Sherry Weddell from the Catherine of Siena Institute. We're delighted that you are raising some of our favorite questions. It would be illuminating to be part of a discussion of our primary mission with an Orthodox group. I'll try to check in to see if anyone has comments or questions that I might respond to.

And my response:

Hi Sherry!

Thanks for your comment and invitation to a conversation. Yes indeed, I think that a Catholic/Orthodox dialog on issue of lay formation would be extremely valuable. Let me start the conversation by articulating four reasons and potential benefits of such a dialog.

First, I think both Churches would profit from seeing the richness of each other's traditions. Not only would this be profit in a positive manner, but I also think that through our shared exposure to the pastoral and formation concerns of each other's tradition we might come to see our own Church's pastoral problems as less overwhelming. Especially important here would be our ability to use the other's tradition as a "control." What I mean by that is when we see the same problems in another tradition we might be able to rule out some factors and have some insights as to possible new solutions.

Second, one phrase used to describe the ministry of Pope John Paul II was/is "friendship ecumenism." I think a conversation about issues of formation and lay ministries would help members of both Churches come to know, love and appreciate each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. A my wife is fond of pointing out, for the first time in over 1,000 years (especially in America) Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics share not only the same language, but culture, food, political system and often home and hearth. This is an extraordinary blessing and opportunity that cannot be wasted and your offer of a conversation fits quite well with what God has offered our two Sister Churches.

Third, over the years I have noticed that the Orthodox approach to the Gospel is often very helpful for Roman Catholics. When I lived in California, for example, Catholics would often ask me questions about the sacraments (especially Holy Confession) or the Virgin Mary or the Scriptures. Happily, and without fail, all of the Catholics I spoke with walked away much more committed to their Catholic identity. I think the Eastern way of speaking about the Gospel can help Roman Catholics see themselves and their tradition with new and more appreciative eyes--that's been my goal in these conversations anyway.

Fourth and finally, least you think I think we do everything well, let me assure you that one of the things that we Orthodox lack is any systematic approach to the catechetical and spiritual formation of the laity. While this is harmful in all areas of the Church's life, it is especially detrimental to our seminary programs. We simply cannot depend on candidates for holy orders having the same, or really any, catechetical or spiritual formation. So your offer could potentially be of great value to us. It is simply inappropriate for men who don't have a sense of their ministry as laity to be attending seminary. And it is even more inappropriate that they be ordained. We need to teach people how to fulfill their lay vocation and, only then when they have demonstrated that they know what it means to be baptized, should they be allowed to attend seminary. Seminary, for us, is being used to do the catechetical and spiritual formation work that is simply not being done in the parish.

And so now dear readers, what do you think?

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