Editor’s Note: The following is part of our daily holiday series celebrating “The Shared World.” Michael is the former communications associate at FMS.
We Irish-Catholics are known for many things, but ecumenism isn’t one of those things. In my own heart, I’ve felt a need to resist feelings of clannishness and pride that keep me from loving fellow Christians as brothers and sisters.
Ironically, it’s been easier for me to relate to practically every other faith except Protestantism; it was typical Catholic hubris, I think, believing that Protestants were “missing” crucial elements somehow.
I know it’s possible to worship one’s own faith as an idol because I’ve done it. It took a lot of time to develop an interior life that can see beyond the substances of my own religion toward the essence of faith: being through communion.
Recently, I was hired by a local United Church of Christ to preach at their Sunday service; as a grad student, I admit I was first attracted to it as a job offer, but somehow it also felt right. An important principle of Ignatian spirituality to me is agere contra, “to act against” and directly engage feelings that make you unfree. I knew I had to take this opportunity.
There was a slight miscommunication in the email correspondence and I basically found out twenty minutes before the service started that I would be leading the entire service, not just delivering the sermon.
I’d been to one Protestant service before in my life. After consulting a sympathetic church lady about exactly how the service was structured, my encyclopedic memory of Catholic prayers and Psalms from the Divine Office actually got put to use; the Memorare prayer was used at one point, substituting Jesus for Mary, Ignatius’ prayer for generosity, as well as the Suscipe, and St. Patrick’s Shield as well.
They seated me in a throne at the top of the imperious pulpit, awkwardly looking down on the congregation, but I was moved several times during the service when I’d look at the congregation and see them look back at me with total acceptance, warmth, and love as a fellow Christian. They knew I was Catholic; it didn’t matter. We all loved Jesus.
Their smiles were powerful. It became a turning point in my life, humbling proof for me of how far God has led me through the Spirit to deeper love. In Dante’s Paradiso, Beatrice calls the pilgrim to account on his progress that he can revel in the ecstasy of faith: “Open your eyes and see what I am: you have seen things that have made you strong enough to endure my smile.”
I heard those same words that Sunday morning. In gratitude, I thanked them.
Michael Carlson hails from Illinois. A graduate of Loyola University Chicago, he has been a Lasallian Volunteer, high school English teacher, and a Jesuit novice. Last year, he was a Communications Associate at FMS and is currently a master’s candidate in religion and literature at Yale Divinity School.
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