Observing this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity certainly does not exhaust what should be our commitment to overcome the divisions that wound the Body of Christ. It does, however, serve to remind us that to love Christ’s Church is to yearn for her holiness and her unity.
This year’s theme, “Open our ears and loosen our tongues” is based on Mark 7: 3. It evokes the wonder of the people who witnessed the healing ministry of our Lord: “He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak”. Yesterday, in his Wednesday Audience, Pope Benedict XVI said that we rightly can repeat these words “on seeing the wonderful flowering of the commitment for the re-establishment of Christian unity. On reviewing the journey of the last forty years,” the Pope continued, “we marvel at how the Lord has awakened us from the lethargy of self-sufficiency and indifference; how he makes us ever more able to ‘listen to one another’ and not just ‘hear ourselves’; how he has loosened our tongue so that the prayer we raise to him has greater force of conviction for the world.”
And, of course, that is what we are about today, “to raise up our prayers to God”. In doing so, we give public expression to the fact that what unites us as Christians is greater than what divides us. Together, our confessions, denominations, religious communities or Churches hold the fundamental beliefs expressed in those twelve articles of faith of the ancient formula, the Apostles’ Creed.
We believe in God the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior, and in the Holy Spirit, the advocate, the giver of life and holiness. We recognize that through the sacrament of baptism we are spiritually reborn and united with Christ and with one another. Together we honor Sacred Scripture as the word of God and as an abiding norm of belief and action. We share in prayer and in many other common sources of the spiritual life. The Holy Spirit is operative among all the baptized with his sanctifying power. He calls us all to true holiness, and it is he who in every generation has prepared Christians of all traditions to face martyrdom for Christ.
And, so today we come together and do together what is the common duty of every Christian, namely to pray. As believers in Jesus Christ, who taught his disciples how to pray, we know that everything can be attained through prayer, through prayer that enables us, by the grace of God, to obey in truth and humility, the divine command to love and Christ’s longing for unity.
We pray for Christian unity, not on our terms or the terms of any one of our particular traditions. Rather, we pray confident that the Lord will gives us complete unity on his terms: when and how it pleases him. What we are about is not merely the “appearance” of unity but to use a Greek word, we seek “Koinomia”, that our fellowship or communion that has as its sours, its model and its fulfillment in the very life of the Trinity.
How long until there is the unity in faith that will permit full communion among the Churches and the various ecclesial communities is in God’s hands; yet, even now there can be great unity in charity. The same Spirit which makes us brothers and sisters in Christ also empowers us to reach out to every human being in need. In Central Florida there are edifying examples of ecumenical cooperation like Orlando’s Christian Service Center supported by a coalition of downtown churches, including St. James’ Cathedral. Also our parishes participate with Protestant denominations in faith based coalitions like FOCUS (Federation of Congregations United to Serve) in the greater Orlando area, PEACE (Polk Ecumenical Action Council) and FAITH (Fighting Against Injustice Toward Harmony) in Volusia County to promote social justice. These efforts show what can be done together – but, of course, much more can and must be done. Christ has not distanced himself from the burdens of human suffering: the closer we come to his cross in our service to those who suffer, the closer we come to each other.
Every easing of human suffering makes our oneness more visible; every step towards unity strengthens the whole body of Christ. As the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, said, “The ecumenical journey is certainly difficult and will perhaps be long; but we are encouraged by the hope that comes from being led by the presence of the Risen One and the inexhaustible power of his Spirit always capable of new surprises.” (Novo Milennio Ineunte 12)