To be united as One!

Three famous theologians have just arrived in Heaven, and they are all waiting outside of a room for a debriefing interview with St. Peter.  The first to go in is Walter Kasper, and he is called into the room. He is in there for about an hour, and when he comes out he has tears of joy and relief streaming down his face.  He is overheard saying to himself: “I was afraid I was wrong about so many things!”  The second is Hans Küng. After he is called into the room, he is in there for a few hours. When he comes out, he is shaking his head in disbelief, and he looks troubled.  He says to himself as he leaves: “I cannot believe I was wrong about so many things!”  The third is Joseph Ratzinger. He goes in with a portfolio of lecture notes penned while in retirement. He is in there for days. Finally, the doors open and St. Peter comes out, saying “I cannot believe I was wrong about everything!”  Somewhat of an in-house anecdote indicative of the different approach to things in Church circles, characteristic of so many walks of life.  Different strokes for different folks!

Wherever two or three people come together, whether in pursuit of a common cause or not, inevitably differences of opinion will arise and varying approaches to doing things will emerge.  Unfortunately in many walks of life polarisation of opinion, taking strong, sometimes intractable approaches that cause conflict and division appear to be on the rise.  We see this very evident in the emergence and growth of the ‘far right’ protesting in relation to migration of peoples.  Church personnel are not exempt from this either as we see from the story above.  It is a sad reality and a scandal to the believing community that stark divisions and splits have emerged in the Christian Churches over last three or four hundred years.

One of the positive ways of addressing this is Church Unity week, a time to pray and take concrete action that might lead to reconciliation, mutual understanding and better coping with difference and disagreement.  For the past one hundred or so years this has been celebrated in January and in some parts of the world in the lead up to Pentecost.

The theme for the week of prayer for Church Unity this year is taken from the Gospel; “You shall love the Lord your God … and your neighbour as yourself” (Luke 10:27). In the passage selected Jesus reaffirmed the traditional Jewish teaching from the Old Testament.  The lawyer in the gospel passage asks Jesus, “and who is my neighbour?” The question of how far the biblical obligation to love should reach was a disputed one among doctors of the law.  The question asked of Jesus by  the  lawyer  is  therefore  a  provocative  one. Jesus  responds  to  the  question  with  a  parable illustrating love extending far beyond the limits expected by the lawyer.

The call to love God and love neighbour is as radical as it is simple. Love God.  Love your neighbour.  I’m often amazed at how we can complicate things so much and get tied up in knots trying to interpret simple instructions.  In doing that the meaning can become unclear, like muddied water.

We are challenged to bear united witness about human kind, about God, about Christ and about the Holy Spirit.  We are challenged to preach Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the light.  In the words of an Orthodox Bishop, Ignatius of Natchia, commenting on the work of the Holy Spirit he said “without the Holy Spirit, God is far away. Christ stays in the past, the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is simply an organisation, authority a matter of domination, mission is a matter of propaganda, liturgy no more than an evocation, Christian living a slave morality.  But with the Holy Spirit the cosmos is resurrected and groans with the birth-pangs of the kingdom, the risen Christ is there, the Gospel is the power of life, the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity, authority is a liberating service, mission is a Pentecost, the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation, human action is defied”.

In seeking the inspiration and guidance of that same Holy Spirit a prayer from Carl Moeddel sets us on that path as we celebrate the hope of Church Unity. One only Holy Spirit of Father and son in whom all are baptized, one giver of many gifts, one tree of many fruits, one speaker of every tongue, renew in our day the wonders of Pentecost.  Grant that people of every race and nation may understand one another, and as one, proclaim the praises of God. Grant that all may be one, as you, Spirit, with the Father and the Son are one God, one Lord. Grant unity to the Body of Christ; grant unity to the human family. Sole breath of every living thing, may all be one who, in you, live and move and have their being.

✠ Fintan Monahan – Bishop of Killaloe

The universal week of prayer for Christian Unity is celebrated this year from January 18th– 25th.

Clare Champion Article, Friday, January 19th