Ordinary Time – 2nd Sunday
January 20, 2008
National Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6
1 Cor 1:1-3
Here we are, back to regular old green ordinary time. Enjoy it while it is here, because it’s not going to last. After two more Sundays we begin Lent. Can you believe it? A short respite between the celebrations of the Christmas season and the austerity of Lent.
But these green Sundays are so full of life for us, so pay attention to them and enjoy them. Green is about growing spiritually in the ordinariness of life. This week is one of those themed weeks – National Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
To begin opening this idea up, let’s take a look at the 2nd reading. We heard a mere three verses from 1 Corinthians, but they are packed with significance. In these verses they give clues to what Paul will address in the rest of the letter. And I submit to you that these three verses pack a real punch when dealing with Christian unity.
So, Paul addresses the Church in Corinth and calls them people who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy. He links their holiness to all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, pay attention to this reality – people of Annunciation Church. You have been sanctified in Christ Jesus by your baptism. People of God, you are called to holiness. Your call to holiness is connected with all people of good will in the world who call upon the name of Jesus. For that reason alone we must dedicate ourselves to prayer for Christian unity. For our prayer will lead us to work of unity.
How do we do that? Let’s now turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Numbers 820-822 concern themselves with our work towards unity.
First, let’s understand what the Church says that unity is not.
Unity is not the idea that all paths lead to the same goal. Thus the Church does not view all religions as being equal. If we taught that then we would have to abandon the idea of objective truth. And we can’t do that because Jesus taught objective truths. Jesus made the claim that he himself is the way and the truth and the life. Therefore all paths are not equal and do not lead to the same goal. This is relativism. It is an error. It is a lie that leads us away from the truth.
Sacred scripture teaches us that Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the very beginning. The Roman Catholic Church is the only Christian denomination which clearly traces its roots all the way back to Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles. All other denominations have split away from this one foundation. But this gift of unity given by Jesus to the Church remains within the Church as something it can never lose. In a universal sense.
However, you and I as members of the Church can either promote unity or we can lose it. Like the parable of the talents, we must exercise the gift of unity. An unused gift is one that is taken and given to someone who will actually do something with it.
So, what do we do to exercise this gift? The catechism gives us seven items. Listen carefully.
A permanent renewal of the Church. The Church is “semper reformandi” that is to say, it must always be continually renewed. Be continually refreshed by the Holy Spirit.
Conversion of heart. We must be converted and live holier lives. If unfaithfulness to the gospel causes divisions, then our faithfulness to Jesus and his teachings brings about unity within the parish and among all those who claim Jesus as Lord.
Prayer in Common. We must seek opportunities to pray both within our parish and to be inviting to all people of good will. These opportunities bring us to a change of heart and holiness of life.
Community. When we come to know one another as friends we can more easily seek the truth of Jesus Christ together.
Ecumenical Formation. We as Catholics need to be clear about what we believe and develop skills for sharing what we know in a respectful and friendly manner.
Dialogue. We as Catholics must seek opportunities to share the reason for our hope with others. Through these holy conversations we draw ever closer to the truth.
Collaboration. Among Christians of good will, we can do works of service together in building up the common good.
Those are seven very clear things that we can commit ourselves to both as individuals and as a parish. However, one final thing is clear to me. Christian Unity is bigger than we are. It is bigger than the reach even of the Roman Catholic Church. Christians have been factioned for the past one thousand years. While the Catholic Church has been doggedly persistent in maintaining unity through the ministry of the bishops and fidelity to the apostolic tradition, we’ve witnessed an almost hopeless factionalism in the past five hundred years.
Several years ago a local pastor at one of the protestant Churches decided to visit us for daily mass during lent. I remember how excited our daily mass crowd was to host this local pastor. I also was pleased that the pastor could be with us. I was pleased because I respected this person as someone who loved God and was dedicated to serving God. This person was both pastoral and intelligent and whose company we all enjoyed. And it was always great except at communion time. Because it was during this holy sacrament of unity that we were regularly reminded that our denominations were not one. That our communion was divided. Each time this pastor came forward at communion time, and I imparted the blessing rather than the Eucharist, I felt a painful twinge. Everything in me desired to give the Eucharist. But we can only give and receive the Eucharist honestly. It signifies unity. And both of us knew that this was not the case between our denominations.
Ultimately, Christian Unity is going to be the work of Christ himself. Only he can make the sad divisions among us to cease. Only he can work the miracle of making us one body and one spirit.
For this reason John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
And he will. Someday his triumph will be completed. Meanwhile we pray for unity. And we wait in joyful hope.