Friday, August 15, 2008

Reflections on the Assumption

The general teaching concerning what happened to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the end of her earthly life is something we share largely with the churches of the East. That fact is certainly something worth celebrating. Yet, given the right motivation, it can also be used to divide.

I recall one instance at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto. Having been acquainted with a few Eastern (Byzantine) Catholics from back home, I decided to spend some time with a large group of Byzantines, which consisted primarily of Ukrainian Catholics, Maronite Catholics, and a few others. I was more familiar with Ruthenian Catholics from back home.

I managed to drag along the two other members of my group with me for a day in the East. After one of the presentations, I got into an intense conversation with a Maronite Catholic young adult about potential reunion between Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox. I wanted to get an Eastern point of view on the subject. We discussed a number of perceived obstacles which included, naturally, the Western articulation of the Immaculate Conception as well as papal infallibility. He was very optimistic at the prospect of reunion, but as we talked, I could sense a subtle tension building in our conversation. He became defensive, perceiving our discussion almost as some sort of imposition, which I found odd... (I don't think I'm an imposing person, and the venue lent itself to the discussion -- it's what the presentation was about).

The discussion turned to the Assumption (or Dormition) as it was observed in the East and the West, and of course, he pointed out the fact that Eastern Christians (Catholics and Orthodox) had professed the belief for centuries. He then argued, with much animosity, that the East had observed it better than the West. He was resentful at the fact that in formally defining the belief as dogma, the West had laid claim to a belief that it received from the East. While he was saying this, I was questioning where this was going and whether this point was really important. At that, a girl behind me spoke up and told me directly, "The West stole it from the East."

Wow -- I was absolutely offended that a such a profound teaching, held in common by everyone (remember, we were all Catholics here), was being used in such a divisive manner, as if to say, "Look, we're more ancient, more pious, more rooted in the ancient teachings than you pretend to be." But centuries of latinization can do that. However ignorant or uncharitable this girl may have been, she was revealing something very real about what reunion between the East and West should mean, and what it can't mean.

And that was only the beginning of my day with the Byzantines. I heard a number of other things that day that I found very challenging, but in general, it was beneficial for me, and has changed the way I think about reunion. It has made me more dedicated to the prospect as well as the need for healing. That is why reunion must happen, but it cannot be rushed.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails