This week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and I wanted to make sure that it did not pass unremarked on this blog.
In his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II remarked,
Thus it is absolutely clear that ecumenism, the movement promoting Christian unity, is not just some sort of “appendix” which is added to the Church’s traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all that she is and does.
If the work of ecumenism is an organic part of the life and work of the Church, then it follows that ecumenism is an organic and essential part of the life and work of all Christians. Now, not every one of us can (or, probably, should) dedicate our whole lives to this work, but all of us should allow the reality of the brokenness of the Church, and the hope for its unity, to pervade our very identities.
There was a point in my life where I didn’t really care too much about ecumenism. All of my best friends were Catholic (and, I might confess, Catholics of a certain stripe, for the most part). All of my theological conversation partners were in that same camp. My “church,” which in retrospect was very small and very limited, was big enough for me and it was powerfully united. I didn’t know anyone with whom I wanted to be in communion and was not.
But, somehow, I eventually found myself studying at a Protestant divinity school and living in an “intentional Christian community” with a bunch of Protestants. We prayed together, and argued together about the ethics of everything from eating meat to the death penalty to the sleeping arrangements for our overnight guests. Our arguments about communion were legion and legend–everything from transubstantiation to open/closed tables. Sometimes the same conversation would continue for weeks at a time, set down and picked up again as time allowed.
And, in the midst of all that, I realized, in a way that I never had before, that we were and are part of “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” It is the Church that Lumen Gentium refers to as the Church of Christ, and it is broken. One of the greatest gifts I carry with me from those days is all the times I went to Protestant services–usually because a friend was preaching, or their child was being baptized, or some other special occasion–and I did not receive communion. In those moments, I felt deeply the brokenness of the Church. I felt the division even in the midst of what is supposed to be a celebration of our unity and oneness. I call this a gift, though, because it is indeed a gift to feel so united to fellow Christians, across denominational and other divides, to feel the pain of our ecclesial divisions. I had moved from a small and unbroken church to a bigger, more complicated and more divided one, and I knew that the movement was a gift.
I’m back in a largely Catholic world. So much so that I needed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity to remind me to pray for something that–in that divided community–I used to pray for daily: the unity of the Church. This week, please take a little time to remember and reflect on the brokenness of the Church; try to do a little something to reach across the divides. And take a little time to pray for the unity of the Church.