The journey towards visible unity among Christians is not only concerned with joint activities, important as these are. It must first and last be founded on prayer. At the heart of the ecumenical quest, there is a vital need for all Christians to share spiritual gifts in building a communion in faith, hope and love. Our ecumenical learning and exchange among the different Christian traditions will need to be characterised by the spirit of listening, of humility, of learning, of penitence concerning the wrongs our own community has inflicted in the past, and of forgiveness concerning the wrongs we have endured. It will also enable us to discern the way in which God has already been answering our prayers for unity, as well as light the path ahead for us to discover perfect communion again.
Sharing our faith and Church life as fellow Christians with each other is above all a journey in search of sanctification. The Second Vatican Council taught that the hope for unity among Christians is of its essence “spiritual ecumenism” (Unitatis Redintegratio 8). This is an idea conceived by Father Paul Couturier, a priest from Lyon in France, as he renewed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It calls on Catholics to emulate in our Church what the Holy Spirit has bestowed through other churches and ecclesial communities. For instance, this could be a tradition of prayer, or a rite or custom in liturgical worship, or a distinctive way of expressing or living the gospel through service in the world. Furthermore, we should be able to recognise, embrace and claim them as gifts held in trust for the whole universal Church in the name of unity.
By the same token Catholics should be ready to share the riches of our own traditions as God’s gifts for all Christians, not just for ourselves. It is a question of how all Christians can receive, with integrity, from the life, good practice and practical wisdom of other traditions to make them our own in the search for our Unity. Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, with encouragement both from Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict, has done much to encourage this approach to our ecumenical partnership with Christians in other traditions. It has been called “ecumenical learning”, or “receptive ecumenism”. To help us to put the ecumenism that is integral to Catholic living into practice and make unity a more visible reality he has also produced “A Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism” (see resources page).