The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Reflection (January 22, 2016)
“The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §820).
It is easy to ignore the divisions that have rent the Church; they have become so much a part of the experience of Christians that there continued presence seems unremarkable. When we call to mind Christ’s fervent prayer at the Last Supper that His disciples may be one, however, we begin to realize that our
composure in the face of division and misunderstanding is unwarranted. Christ wills that we should be One, and the Holy Spirit calls us to work and pray for that unity.
How can we respond to this call to work for the unity of Christians? The Compendium of the
Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us several helpful areas to consider: “This desire involves the entire Church and it is pursued by conversion of heart, prayer, fraternal knowledge of each other and theological dialogue” (§164).
Conversion of heart means striving to live out more deeply the holiness to which we are called by means of our baptism, to avoid letting our own unfaithfulness to Christ scandalize others.
By praying for unity, we unite our prayers to those of Christ for the unity of the Church; we join
ourselves to the Holy Spirit who is the one who unifies and sanctifies the Church. When we pray together with Christians of other churches or communities, we manifest an aspect of the unity we already share, while still acknowledging the ever expanding unity to which we are called.
Fraternal knowledge of each other, whether achieved through simply spending time with those of other traditions or through more formal ecclesial encounters, enables the banishment of simple prejudice. While doctrinal divisions may still remain, fraternal knowledge reminds us of the good will shared by those who may disagree with us, even on important matters, and at times gives those we encounter a chance to overcome their own overly simple notions of Catholic beliefs and practices. The unity to which we are ultimately called is the unity of the whole human race, united in God; fraternal encounters promote on a human and supernatural level this ultimate unity.
Theological dialogue, when pursued with a sense of realism and good will by those who are already well grounded in their own traditions, helps to distinguish between divisive issues that are merely a result of
historical misunderstanding and those which are in fact deeply rooted in divergent interpretations of the Christian faith. By engaging in serious and charitable dialogue, the authentic positions of various groups
becomes more clear, and steps may be taken which can help alleviate certain ongoing divisions or
“The Church is one because she has as her source and exemplar the unity of the Trinity of Persons in one God. As her Founder and Head, Jesus Christ re-established the unity of all people in one body. As her soul, the Holy Spirit unites all the faithful in communion with Christ. The Church has but one faith, one sacramental life, one apostolic succession, one common hope, and one and the same charity” (Compendium, §161).
During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, may we work and pray that all Christians may become more fully rooted in the unity of the Trinity, One God, forever and ever!
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Innocent Smith, op