That All May Be One

By Winter, Miriam Therese | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

That All May Be One


Winter, Miriam Therese, Journal of Ecumenical Studies


Little did I know as I looked up at the stars in the summertime of my childhood that one day I would return to that memory, saying: Here is where it all began.

I have always felt there was far more to life than that which meets the eye, more to meaning than pragmatic purpose, more to mystery than I or anyone could ever comprehend, so much more to cherish than what was near at hand. No doubt this is why I was able to take a quantum leap beyond the restrictions of my enculturation to follow the lure of the Spirit into the vast unknown.

I begin my retrospective this way because it will be shaped by how I view reality, which will influence my selection of the stories I choose to tell. As I weave my own experiences into the evolution of ecumenism during the past fifty years, I will identify and celebrate some transformative moments within the universe story and rejoice in an evolution of consciousness reflected in some of the major Spirit-inspired movements of former times. This is the gift of remembering. As we revisit the way we were, we may well feel a smidgeon of fulfillment in the way we are, here and now, and in who we are becoming.

Growing up in the 1940's and early 1950's in the United States was characterized by an ethos of "us" and "them" in so many aspects of religion and society. I understood very little about that when I entered a religious community in response to an urge felt deep within. It seemed logical to me at the time to embrace the restricted life of the convent in order to pursue a life of the spirit to the extent that I desired. However, this also meant embracing a significant disconnect between my inner spirit and its external embodiment. It meant leaving behind the world I loved and all that I cherished within it. Metaphor had created in me its own reality of integration and inclusion. Ironically, my new way of life was rooted in separation. The habit and veil, the Latin language, the medieval mystique of its rites and rituals, a cloistered enclosure, vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience--all would now set me apart. This segregation should have ended my profound yet inarticulate desire to be out and about in God's creation as a holistic and healing presence, but it did not. Instead, it provided the means whereby the call of the Spirit that I felt and followed, but was unable to explain, would be nurtured and fulfilled.

I was divinely led to enter a community with a pioneering spirit and a worldwide focus on healing and compassion for all people of any faith tradition or no affiliation at all. Medical Mission Sisters were founded by Anna Dengel, M.D., in 1925 to bring professional medical care to the suffering in India, primarily women and children. Because social and religious traditions prevented Muslim and Hindu women from being treated by a male physician; because canon law within the Catholic Church prevented vowed religious from practicing the full scope of medicine, which included midwifery and certain surgical procedures; and because a religious community offered the best means of support and continuity in a context where a Catholic presence was scarce and women's rights nonexistent, Dr. Dengel pioneered an alternative, precipitating a change in canon law in 1936. Throughout our Society's history there has been and continues to be ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, not only on other continents, but also in the U.S.A. Such was the context of my exposure to a new way of life, one oriented toward reaching out to others with respect for integrity.

The ingredients for a systemic shift within the Catholic Church began to percolate and then erupt during the years leading up to the inaugural issue of J.E.S. Pope John XXIII shocked the world by opening his heart and the institutional Church to the dynamics of the Spirit, eschewing papal precedent, thereby precipitating a radical reorientation in liturgical expression and in the traditional understanding of the nature of the Church. …

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