Interchurch Families: Toward a Language of Faithful Possibilities
Riccardo Larini says in Receptive Ecumenism and the Call to Catholic Learning: “Whenever two different Christian communities meet, what actually occurs is the encounter between different cultural-linguistic worlds.”
We interchurch couples find ourselves squarely situated in that statement. We come together in love, and find ourselves in an encounter between different cultural-linguistic worlds. It is in this concrete circumstance that we experience the call, and discover our vocation, to the work of receptive ecumenism, a work which remains part and parcel of our lives 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for as long as we live.
Rejection or discouragement in the vocation can lead to disastrous consequences for our lives of faith, and even our marriages. Entry into that vocation, grounded in our firm and abiding love for each other, and especially if supported by those around us, can bear the most wondrous fruit--for ourselves, our families, our churches, and our world. We discover and receive not only the gift the other brings and is, but the gift we bring and are, in new and wondrous ways.
To return to the theme of cultural-linguistic worlds: When my wife (an Anglican) and I (a Roman Catholic) married, we discovered that while our faith was in the same Lord, our language of faith seemed to differ from that of the other. Over time, we had to listen, learn, come to understand each other’s language. Then we found we had to go beyond, to develop a new language, because neither the language that fit beautifully the world of her tradition, nor the language that fit, equally beautifully, the world of my tradition, fit our world.
Let me give you one simple example of why that might be. We have come from the 1917 Code of Canon Law (no longer in use) which expressly forbid any and all mixed marriages, to a situation where in our Catholic diocese, some 50% of all marriages are now denoted as ‘mixed’. This is a new situation, one which calls for a new way of thinking, and a new language to make sense of that experience.
We find ourselves living a tension not of our own making, but very real nonetheless. The scriptures proclaim, our churches believe and teach, and we experience and believe, that in marriage we two become one, a unity so real, so profound, that it is recognized as being indissoluble.
Then we find ourselves facing the neuralgic question: where does that one made so by God take and eat, take and drink? Phrased in the language of negation, if one-half of that one is not welcome to receive at this Eucharistic celebration in this place, how can the other-half of that one be welcome and receive? Do we live faithfully the unity of our marriage, and forego the Eucharist? Or do we divide, go to our respective churches to receive the great sacrament of unity – and in dividing, deny the unity of our marriage?
We are called to be God’s sacrament of love for each other and, as one, for the world. And yet, our churches find themselves seemingly unable to enable us to receive and respond to God’s attractive energy in the Eucharist. If God attracts us, makes us one in the sacrament of marriage, calls us forward as one, how can we not be welcomed and enabled to respond in the sacrament of unity that is the Lord’s Supper?
In Search of New Words to Describe What We’re Living
I turn now to a linguistic issue: In the English-speaking world, we use the phrase “double-belonging”. This sense of belonging to the Body of Christ through two local churches becomes, over time, a very powerful and beautiful reality. Yet, with some validity, the Catholic Church has great difficulty with that term, as it seems to imply a sense of belonging to two Churches, when in fact there is only one Church, no matter how many different expressions there may be of it. The French at times use the term “double insertion”, which to some extent attempts to address this concern by suggesting that there is one reality into which we are inserted, though through two different insertions. But frankly, it doesn’t have the same linguistic sense in English.
We find ourselves today, like the early Church, attempting to develop a language which makes “faith sense” of a very real experience in a new and ever-growing situation, a language which speaks of living today in our marriages the unity for which Christ prayed, even while that unity remains still in the making for our churches.
This language which we are moving toward must be faithful to the apostolic tradition; at the same time, it must be open to new possibilities consonant with the new situation.
And so I invite you to take part in what we in North America call a ‘blue-sky’ exercise, that is, an exercise in creative exploration and reflection. When we “write words” in the vast expanse of clear blue sky (thinking creatively), most of our words disperse and drift away. But sometimes they touch others, begin to form clouds, and eventually bring life-giving moisture to the parched earth below.
In that spirit, I invite you to take 2-3 minutes, no more, to do three things:
1. First, share with us what you have received from interchurch families in what you may have seen, heard or read.
2. Then, I invite you to share words or concepts that may spring to mind which give form to that experience, help to speak of it, make sense of it.
3. Finally, let us trust the Spirit of God to inspire us to hear and receive from the other, that together we may open doors to new and faithful possibilities.
Ray Temmerman is actively involved in the Canadian Association of Interchurch Families. He administers the interchurchfamilies.org Web site and the email@example.com listserve joining interchurch families and friends from around the world. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org