By David Schütz
Kairos Catholic Journal
In the first week of August, 2012
, Fr Michael Hardie of the Janssen Spirituality Centre in Boronia received a phone call. “Can I speak to Paul Murray, please?” the caller requested. “I’m sorry,” Fr Michael replied, “he and his wife and family are staying down in our villa, but I can give him a message if you like.” There was stunned silence on the other end of the line.
The caller was in fact looking for Fr Paul Murray, the Irish Dominican priest-poet and professor of spirituality at the Angelicum in Rome.
The Paul Murray staying at the Janssen Centre with his family was the English lay theologian who is professor in the Department of Theology and Religion and the director of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University. This ‘other’ Paul Murray was in Melbourne as the guest of the Victorian Council of Churches (VCC) to speak about the approach to relations between different Christian churches known as ‘receptive ecumenism.’
By pure coincidence, both Paul Murrays were visiting Melbourne at the same time. I was privileged to act as host and driver for the Paul Murray from Durham, and he told me that he had never met his alter ego. Nor did they get a chance to meet this time, despite almost crossing paths at one point inside the Cardinal Knox Centre.
Professor Paul Murray came to Melbourne as a part of an Australian tour with his family, a visit which took in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and even Townsville (as well as a quick visit to Uluru, a journey along the Great Ocean Road, and a ride on Puffing Billy). In each major city, Professor Murray met many Catholics and other Christian theologians working in the area of ecumenism.
In Melbourne, he spent a day at the United Faculty of Theology’s Centre for Theology and Mission in Parkville with folk from the National Council of Churches in Australia, including many theologians involved in the official bilateral dialogues between the various churches.
He spoke to the Faith and Order Commission of the VCC (of which I am chairman) to aid us in our project on the ‘ecumenical vision’. He gave the Annual Oration in honour of Past General Secretaries at the VCC Assembly at Central Hall. He met staff and students of Catholic Theological College for conversation over lunch. Finally, he was guest of honour and speaker at the Ecumenical Consultation on ‘Handing on the Faith’ hosted by our Archdiocesan Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission.
In a time when the official dialogues between churches, and in particular the dialogues in which the Catholic Church is involved, seem to be approaching the limit of their possible progress, Paul’s great contribution to the ecumenical endeavour has been to pioneer what he has termed ‘receptive ecumenism.’
To this point, our dialogues have mainly concerned clarifying misunderstandings and seeking common ground to overcome different theologies. ‘Receptive ecumenism’ does not replace this, but is a new and practical attitude of willingness to learn from the other, especially in areas in which we may sense a lack in our own Christian community—not a sacramental or dogmatic lack, but rather a lack we experience in the way we live out our reality as Church. It is about recognising that our community may have certain wounds which might be healed through receiving gifts from the way other Christians live in their community. Thus we come to share in the positive strengths of one another’s communities and are drawn closer together in our mission to the world.
One very practical example of this is the way we go about handing on the faith to a new generation. This was the subject of the ecumenical consultation which our commission hosted on 3–4 August
at the Treacy Centre in Parkville. About forty leaders in ecumenism and faith formation from around Victoria (including Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Uniting, Church of Christ, Salvation Army, Mar Thoma and Antiochian Orthodox Christians) came together for two days to discuss the challenge of forming new members of our faith communities. This is a common challenge faced by all Christian churches and it is one that is approached differently and with different degrees of success by each community. Therefore, in a spirit of what Professor Murray calls ‘catholic learning’, the consultation heard about the various visions, programs, methods and challenges surrounding handing on the faith in our various communities in order that we might learn from and be enriched by one another’s gifts.
We have certainly been blessed to have ‘the other Paul Murray’ and his family among us for this short time, and hope that he will be able to visit us again in the future.
David Schütz is Executive Officer of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission, Archdiocese of Melbourne.
Photo by Paul McSherry