Jan. 20, 2016
Bishop LaValley’s reflection at the Jan. 17 Ecumenical Service at St. Peter’s Church in Plattsburgh to open the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
That the different Christian churches together agree to set aside one week for special prayer and action this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity shows that we feel the need for more unity among believers in Christ. The disunity in Christianity is a scandal to the world that weakens the Christian message and witness.
Last year during Advent I was blessed to go on my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While in Jerusalem, we entered the area of Christ’s tomb and were warned not to cross over an imaginary line between two pillars because that was the property of another Christian faith. Christian disunity met me in the face at Calvary in the Holy Land!
What moral weight do we carry when we ask different peoples of the world to get along when we as Christians cannot reconcile our own differences?
Let us today ask God’s forgiveness for all of God’s children; I pray for forgiveness of Catholic Christians for our participation in the sin of disunity.
Let us resolve to extend a hand of reconciliation and friendship to our sisters and brothers in the Lord.
And in less violent, but boldly, increasingly overt ways, we Christians suffer common persecutions in our society, yes even in our nation today.
For instance, by simply trying to live and teach what we believe, particularly concerning life, marriage, and family issues, we are branded as bigots and our freedom to practice our Christian beliefs is denied.
Our disunity makes anemic our proclamation and witness of the faith. It hinders us from carrying out the healing and reconciling mission of Christ in a broken, needy and increasingly terror-filled world.
As this year’s theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity reminds us, we are called to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord. Our disunity is a great obstacle for this to happen. It is virtually impossible to give effective witness to the beauty of what our God has done for all of us if we stay isolated from one another, protecting each other’s sectarian turf.
When all is said and done, we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. A church built merely on the large egos, glib speech, and the charisma of its leaders is doomed to fail. Christ must not be divided.
This disunity among Christians is an abuse of God’s gifts. Pope Francis reminded us in his Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (EG,118), “Ecumenism is a contribution to the unity of the human family. We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another.”
We are all daughters and sons of the one all-merciful, all-loving Father.
Jesus has bequeathed glory to the church. But this glory can only manifest itself when the unity among Christians reflects the unity between Jesus and the Father. Lack of unity takes away from the glory that Jesus intended for the body of believers.
Jesus prayed for us so that the love which the Father has loved Him may be in us. The unity for which Jesus prayed is a unity based on divine love. It is a unity that is possible only with the love of God in us. It is not uniformity or a unity that deprives others of their individuality, but a unity of essentials that makes room for diversity. “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty; in all things, charity.”
Our common faith in all that is expressed in our baptismal profession, in the Apostles’ Creed and in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed expresses the faith professed by the Church since the time of the apostles.
On the basis of this faith, we must develop the concept and spirituality of communion. Communion is the freedom to use legitimate diversities in gifts shared. “If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another.” (EG,118)
We must develop the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God. Such communion means that we need to learn how to make room for our sisters and brothers, bearing each other’s burdens and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, distrust and jealousy.
We travel together because we seek inner conversion and holiness of life in conformity with the Gospel and above all with prayer that echoes the prayer of Jesus. We are all members of the one Body of Christ. Christ is not to be divided.
Our theme this year is taken from the First Letter of St. Peter. He reminds us of the relationship between baptism and proclamation, and the calling shared by all the baptized to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord.
As Christians seeking the unity of the Body of Christ we are all called to recognize the mighty acts of God in our own lives and the life of the Church.
Let us resolve, in our own little ways, to work for the realization of the full unity of all Christians for which Jesus prayed.
Occasions such as this can fire us with enthusiasm to overcome the difficulties in attaining unity. God can do mighty things, if we allow His grace to flow in our hearts.
Our world today asks each one of us for unity, communion, and solidarity. Why can’t we all work to recompose the unity that has been torn for centuries?
This Jubilee Year of Mercy causes you and me to do some serious soul-searching as we reflect on our answer.