When I was a seminarian sixty years ago we were intolerant of other Christian Religions. We were told we were the only true religion, and it would be a sin for us to attend a Protestant church service. The sin had a Latin name, commixtio in sacris or “Mixing in sacred matters.”
It was such a flip-flop for Catholics to hear Vatican II telling us we had a close relationships with all the baptized. Paragraph 15 of the “Constitution on the Church” says, “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian.”
It was especially difficult for my Irish priest friends to open up to Protestants. In Korea I was secretary to a young Irish bishop, and because the church ordered him to attend meeting with Protestant pastors, he went to them. But, one day he came back from one of those ecumenical gatherings, and he told me, “Sully, you will have to take my place. I can’t take it. They have gone and made a verb out of “fellowship.” Now we are ‘fellowshipping.’”
But getting back to the rigid atmosphere in our seminary days, we had one priest who was more rigid than anyone else. I think he wanted to protect us from saying something liberal that would get us into trouble with Rome. He always kept Fridays for himself, but one Friday I had a book that he needed, so I knocked on his door.
He said, “Oh, come in.” I did. And his appearance surprised me. His hair was messy, and his sweater was buttoned wrong. Then he startled me by repeating what Jesus said in today’s Gospel. “Thomas,” he asked, “What did Jesus mean by saying, ‘Whoever is not against us is for us?’
To myself I said it sounded like Jesus wanted us to be friendly to Protestants, but I wasn’t going to say anything so wild to this rigid priest. I said, “I don’t know, Father.”
“Alright, Thomas,’ he said, “Go back to your studying.” I left him there to wait twenty-five years for Vatican II to tell him what Jesus really meant.