The following is a letter from a Roman Catholic priest... Back to the Future: The Rebirth of Optimism. by Fr Joseph F. Wilson We live in hope, we Christians; the virtue of Hope is part of our marching orders. But Hope is distinct from optimism, and it often seems nowadays that optimism is hard to come by in the Church. My own Roman Catholic Church as well as the Episcopal Church in America are beset with problems, scandals and signs of institutional decline all too familiar to anyone following the news. But during this past week, something happened that hearkened back to an earlier day, both hopeful and optimistic, a day thirty-six years ago, which most people seem to have forgotten. In 1966, in an ancient church in Rome, Saint Paul's Outside-The-Walls, the Pope of the Catholic Church met the Archbishop of Canterbury, and they participated in a prayer service. At its conclusion, just as they were to part, Pope Paul VI stopped, hesitated, then took off his own Episcopal ring and placed it on the finger of Michael Ramsey, the primate of All England and head of the Anglican Communion. It was a heady day, indeed a day of great optimism and deep hope which seemed to promise further progress between two great churches towards the realization of the Lord's prayer "that they may be one." The dismal aftermath of that joyful encounter is a matter of recent history. The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation (ARCIC) began, with great fanfare. Yet over the decades, the two churches, rather than converging, have diverged sharply as Anglicanism made room for remarriage in Church after divorce, the ordination of women to the diaconate, then to the priesthood, then to the episcopate. The list of controverted moral issues between the two churches has grown, with the issue of the acceptance of homosexuality and the blessing of same-sex unions the latest point of contention. The hope of that day in Saint Paul's Outside-the-Walls has seemed much more distant than just thirty six years - until this week. What happened during this past week was that over two thousand faithful Episcopalians, conservative believers gathering to witness to their Faith and plan for the future in the face of the continuing apostasy of their denomination, were brought to their feet in a demonstration of joyous, thunderous applause in response to a letter of support from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the chief aide to the Vicar of Christ, the Holy Father, Pope John Paul. The letter is a significant gesture, for the Faithful of both churches, for a number of reasons. For one, as has been noted already, the headquarters of the Episcopal Church at 815 Second Avenue in New York City was bypassed, as Cardinal Ratzinger chose to communicate directly with the Plano assembly. This is unusual, doubly so as Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church is the Anglican co-chair of the official dialogue between Anglicanism and the Roman Church. For another, the letter is quite clear that Cardinal Ratzinger is writing "on behalf of Pope John Paul II." This is not merely a private initiative. But, perhaps most significantly of all, it is a further sign of something which has been increasingly evident in the past few years: ecumenical dialogue is entering a more realistic phase. As the two churches diverged more and more, the "official dialogue" proceeded and issued optimistic statements; if the official communiquÈs were to be believed, it seemed as though the two churches were growing steadily closer as doctrinal and moral differences between them multiplied. Successive Archbishops of Canterbury and Presiding Bishops of the USA were ceremonially received by the Pope in Rome, all the while the official Anglican establishment in Britain and North America was getting loonier and loonier. Meanwhile, within the Episcopal Church of the USA and the Church of England, faithful traditionalist Anglicans were struggling to preserve their heritage, and continuing Anglicans, having left the official Anglican Communion to form their own bodies, were persevering against immense odds. With all of these, the Holy See certainly had more in common than with the Anglican Communion establishment with which it was dialoguing. But things have slowly been changing in the past few years. Bishops of continuing Anglican churches have been cordially received at Rome, and conversations quietly begun; and when those conversations encountered obstacles among some in the Roman Curia, those obstacles were overcome. Forward in Faith/UK, the traditionalist group in Britain, has been engaged in serious, cordial conversations with Rome. And Rome itself has said that it will no longer feel obligated to channel all of its Anglican conversations through the official channels of the Anglican Communion. And now there is reason to hope that we return to the Lord Jesus, Who is, after all, the Point of it all. We return to the Lord Jesus, Who prayed that we might be One. We return to the Lord Jesus and to His Gospel, remembering that the one thing needful is that we be faithful to Him. We live in a day when it is not hard at all to find bishops who will pretend that 'Unity" is the Most Important Thing, rather than the Way, the Truth, the Life who should unify us; that Dialogue is more important than witnessing to Truth. At Plano, they kicked off the festivities with "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus." It's no accident; that great old war horse has been out of fashion for years. Standing Up for Jesus is coming back into style. Plano was an interesting meeting in many ways; perhaps the most interesting aspect of it was the quite evident feeling of participants that the Presiding Bishop and his minions were now quite beside the point. "Jesus Christ is Lord," was a common exclamation, and also common in the reports from Plano were expressions of joy and calm. Bishop Ackerman spoke powerfully when he said that they need have no fear, that they already knew Who had written the last chapter and where the victory would lie. Meanwhile, as far as 815 Second Avenue was concerned, one got the distinct impression that the assembly was saying, "Oh, rubbish! You have no power here. Now, begone! Before someone drops a house on YOU!!" Yes, it seems that, after so long, there's not just a future to hope in, but to be optimistic about as well. Great things are about to happen, great things done by the Lord. Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus! Father Wilson is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, ordained in 1986. He is presently stationed at St Luke's Church in Whitestone, Queens, where he is curate, director of education of the school, and a keen observer of Anglican affairs.