Central to any concept of reconciliation is the importance of relationship. I would say that before one can even begin a process of reconciliation, three things must be in place. First, the divergent parties have to be willing. Second, there has to be some mutual desire, and, most importantly, they have to have some knowledge about each other.
Growing up we were taught through the stories of my Grandpa Franzen how awful the Catholic Church was. His hatred for the Catholic Church was based on his childhood. As a German immigrant, family his parents sold all of their family treasures to the Catholic Church to get money to board a boat for America with hope of finding jobs, since there were none in post-WW1 Germany. Their hopes were great when they settled in Chicago, but the Great Depression hit, and there was not enough money to go around, so his parents sent my grandfather to an orphanage with his brother. As the older of the two, my grandfather would play the role of protector, which placed him in the path of a myriad of abuses. The visceral hate he had was understandable, and the mistrust I felt through those stories clouded much of my feeling towards Catholics and that side of Christendom.
While I learned to work and study with Catholics in seminary, it was not until a fortuitous month in Switzerland when I found a level of reconciliation. Having chosen to take a World Christianity Emphasis in seminary, I was encouraged to join another seminary for a study in Geneva at the World Council of Churches. The class was great, and I learned a lot about world missions, but the most important thing was where we stayed, in an ecumenical convent run by the Catholic Church. Technically, it was a convent that had an outreach run by some priests.
Every day after class, the priests would invite us to a vespers service. At the beginning, I physically had a hard time even entering the room. Late one night as I was sharing a beer with a friend, and one of the priests came in and joined us. And we began to talk. We talked a lot that night; I even told him my feelings about the Catholic Church and he told me his story and his feeling about Protestants. By the time we finished we were laughing, and when we came to the last night and the priests offered us a communion service, he specifically came over to me and gave me the host. It was the second time in my life I had received communion from a Catholic Priest, but it was one of the most meaningful communions I had ever had, because at that moment we realized that not only had we reconciled the multi-generational pains of our pasts, but we had come to a place where we had reconciled a part of our relationship with God.
For me, this marked a new reality and a new approach to faith, recognizing that the burdens of the past and the burden of others really do hold you back from fully recognizing and accepting God. While I obviously did not become catholic, or even accept many of their “dogmas,” in a core way I became more complete and connected to God because I was able to break down those barriers.
When we think of the Love of God and its connection to reconciliation, it is an understanding that God wants us to break down as many walls and set aside any prejudice so that we can both fully live and fully connect to Him.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen