You were born in Mexico, in 1950, immigrated to New York City with your family in 1952, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1993. You were raised Catholic, but only responded to the Gospel by committing your life to Christ later in life. What was the context of this commitment?
It was at L’Abri Fellowship, in Huémoz sur Ollon, Switzerland, almost fifty years ago in the summer of 1970, that I first committed my life to Christ as Lord and Savior, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
L’Abri Fellowship, an evangelical Protestant community where people live, study, and work, was founded by Francis A. Schaeffer, along with his wife Edith, more than a half century ago. It was at L’Abri that I began to understand the Christian faith as a way of life rooted in the truth about reality, about the meaning of life, and communion with God the Father, in Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. It was also at L’Abri that I began to understand that living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ entailed the sanctification of the whole of life, including the life of culture, particularly the intellectual life.
Your walk with the Lord took you through various expressions of Christianity. Finally, in 1992, you became fully reunited with the Catholic Church. Please tell us something about this journey.
Now, this understanding of the Christian life, which I first learned at L’Abri Fellowship, was deepened in the paths I took on my journey ahead into full communion with the Catholic Church in 1992. One path was the Augustinian and Reformed, or Dutch neo-Calvinist, tradition of historic Christianity. Another path, which deepened my understanding of the historic Christian faith, especially the antiquity of the Church, of the Liturgy, of the sacramental life of grace in Christ, the Church Fathers, and the idea of doctrinal development, I found in the writings of Blessed John Henry Newman and John Paul II.
I went ahead into full communion with the Catholic Church twenty-two years after discovering Christ, by grace, when the Lord Jesus led me to re-discover his Church.
In the subtitle of one of your books, Dialogue of Love, you describe yourself as an “evangelical Catholic ecumenist.” Could you say something about that self-description?
I am an evangelical Catholic because I believe that the Gospel, God’s free gift of salvation—by which is meant salvation by faith in the saving death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ—calls for a response, for personal conversion by the Spirit’s power to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I am an evangelical because I believe in the centrality of the Bible as the authoritative Word of God in the faith and life of a committed Christian. I am an evangelical because I believe that the gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ for all men, and hence it is the free gift of God to which I am called to give public witness.
I am an evangelical Catholic because I am committed to the Christological and Trinitarian dogmas of the Church as the normative context for understanding the Christian faith. I am a Catholic because I am committed to the necessity of the Church for access to the reality of faith and its interpretation. In other words, I am a Catholic because I am committed to the teaching that the existence of the Church belongs to the gospel, that Christian faith and life is ecclesial, sacramental, and liturgical, and that the Church of Christ is one and universal, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit working through the Church’s Magisterium, the successors of the Apostles.
In the words of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, “This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.” I am a Catholic because I am committed to the teaching that the Church that Christ founded subsists only in the Catholic Church, and hence that the one gospel is inseparable from this really existing Church, most fully and rightly ordered through time as well as space (as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus phrases it).
Last but not least, I am an evangelical Catholic ecumenist because I am committed to the God-given unity of the Church and the reconciliation of divided Christians.
The unity of the Christian churches is utterly important to you. That seems clear.
Unity is both a gift and a task. I am an ecumenist because the teaching that the Church Jesus Christ founded subsists in its own right only in the Catholic Church, and the concomitant teaching from Lumen Gentium, that “many elements of sanctification and truth are found outside [the Church’s] visible boundaries,” impels me to seek the restoration of unity among my separated brethren.
Given my commitment to these teachings, I raised the question for myself that John Paul II rightly asked in his 1995 encyclical on Christian unity, Ut Unum Sint, That All May Be One: “How is it possible to remain divided, if we have been ‘buried’ through Baptism in the Lord’s death, in the very act by which God, through the death of his Son, has broken down the walls of division?”
You’ve published six books and over one hundred popular and scholarly articles. You’ve lectured worldwide, including England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, and South Africa. You have a full teaching schedule [Dr. Echeverria, professor of philosophy and theology, has been a Sacred Heart faculty member since 2003]. What are you trying to accomplish by exerting such intellectual energy?
First, I am committed to advancing the claim regarding the truth of the gospel, indeed, of the Catholic faith; in addition, that one can know and be justified in holding the claims of the faith to be true. This involves the creative retrieval of the authoritative sources of faith in order to move faithfully forward in advancing those truths as the answers to the questions of contemporary men and women.
Second, I am committed to advancing a legitimate interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and its normative documents. I agree with the 1985 Extraordinary Synod on Vatican II: “Vatican II should be accepted as illuminating the problems of our own day.”
But success on this score depends on another principle enunciated by this synod: “The theological interpretation of the Conciliar doctrine must show attention to all the documents, in themselves and in their close inter-relationship, in such a way that the integral meaning of the Council’s affirmations—often very complex—might be understood and expressed.”
Getting right the legacy of Vatican II is crucial for me, not only for my intellectual life, but also for living the Christian life now. One cannot get a right interpretation without interpreting the council “in continuity with the great tradition of the Church, including earlier councils. The Church is one and the same throughout all the councils.”
I try to show this continuity in all my works, most recently in my forthcoming book, Revelation, History, and Truth: A Hermeneutics of Dogma.
To be fully Catholic—is to be fully ecumenical. Perhaps that would be the primary theme that emerges from your work.
Yes. Although I am a Catholic theologian doing theology within the normative tradition of confessional Catholicism, and thus in the light of Catholic teaching, all of my books are ecumenical works, indeed, works in what has been termed “receptive ecumenism.” Hence I am always listening attentively to the writings of fellow Christian theologians from other traditions. [Dr. Echeverria has been a member of the ecumenical initiative “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” since 2013.]
This approach is evident in my recent book, Divine Election: A Catholic Orientation in Dogmatic and Ecumenical Perspective. John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint says it well. Receptive ecumenism means “Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some way it is always an ‘exchange of gifts’. . . . Dialogue does not extend exclusively to matters of doctrine but engages the whole person; it is also a dialogue of love.”