Finding My Family

Posted: 9/10/2014

Father Frank RuffI didn't know what was going to happen to me when I left the house that day in 1965. I was a young Glenmary priest, assigned to a new Glenmary territory in North Georgia, heading east to Greenville, S.C., to find Furman University, a Baptist school. I had been invited by the president of the Baptist Student Union to speak about the Catholic Church at their regular monthly gathering at 6 p.m. After the usual formalities during the first part of the meeting, I began to share my faith and answer questions from the students such as "What is prayer like for you?" and "How did you come to faith?"

Then they began to share their faith, as I asked the same questions of them. None of us wanted to stop when the time came for the end of the meeting, so we kept sharing—until security interrupted at 8:55 p.m. with the announcement that "the building closes in five minutes." Someone suggested we continue at the library since it was still open. And we did, with the same excitement, until the librarian came at 10:55 p.m. to tell us that "the library closes in five minutes." At that point I went to the dorm with some of the students, and we kept exploring each other's faith experiences until early in the morning.

I didn't realize I had had a life-changing experience until I woke up the next morning with a new vision. I had been taught to treat other churches with respect, but the previous night I had learned they are not "other churches"—they are family. I discovered brothers and sisters I never knew I had. I discovered the rest of my family.

Though this experience happened almost 50 years ago, during the Second Vatican Council, it still shapes my life. Once I found the rest of my family, I could not just say good-bye and leave them. Through the years, as I have time, I visit Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, and Church of Christ churches to join with them worshiping our common Father and committing ourselves again to our Brother, the Lord Jesus.

During my ministry, one of my Glenmary assignments was to work full-time (three years) and part-time (21 years) building understanding and cooperation with Baptists. And this past June, for the 25th time, I attended the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. I read five Protestant magazines regularly and Baptist press releases daily. I do not find it burdensome because they bring me news of my family. Sometimes I get upset with them, but who doesn't get upset sometimes with family members?

Parishioners and friends have warned me occasionally to be careful not to lose my Catholic faith. Although I do love evangelicals and have learned much from them, I say without hesitation that my Catholic faith is deeper and stronger and my commitment to the Catholic Church is firmer because of them.

Currently I am a senior member in Glenmary, and I serve as sacramental minister of the Catholic churches in Elkton and Guthrie, Ky., celebrating Sunday and weekday Masses as well as other sacraments. But I still have time and energy to participate in two ministerial associations locally and serve on the Glenmary and diocesan ecumenical commissions. I mourn the divisions within the Christian family and yearn for the day when Jesus' prayer at the Last Supper is fulfilled: "...that they may all be one." (Jn 17:21) May it happen soon!

Read more about Father Frank Ruff and his ecumenical ministry.