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Ecumenism – God’s desire for unity among Christians

St. John the evangelist

Today is the Feast of St. John the Evangelist.

John referred to himself as ‘the one whom Jesus loved’, and it was St. John who gives us such great insight into the heart of Jesus, through his gospel, and especially through his account of Our Lord’s discourse during the Last Supper.

In Chapter 17 of St. John’s gospel, he records Jesus’ prayer for his church, which is very appropriate at this time of year, when we talk so much about peace and brotherhood. The entire chapter focuses on Jesus’ request to the Father that ‘all should be one’, which will be a sign to the world that Jesus is truly the Son of God, and His message is to be received because of that unity.

“…The glory which you have given me I have given to them,
that they may be one even as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may become perfectly one,
so that the world may know that you have sent me
and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)

This says so much to us about Christian unity.

Jesus desires our unity, our becoming one, not only as a father desires that his children are kind to one another, and respect one another, but because this unity will be a sign to all unbelievers that Christianity is true, that God is true, that Scripture is indeed a true record of both God’s revelation of Himself to us and of the historical life of the Man-God, Jesus Christ.

This passage elevates our search for Christian unity from merely being a desire which is close to the hearts of many Christians, simply because it is close to God’s heart, to what must become an incessant search and a driving force in our lives – even if only in our prayer-lives. God desires our unity, but also demands and requires it – He gives Christian unity as a pre-requisite for the conversion of the entire world.

Christian unity is not something that is to be easily found.

The obstacles to unity are very great, on a personal level, and on a formal level.

Perhaps this quote from Isaiah could be seen as prophecy, or a promise that we will one day be united:

“Therefore says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the House of Jacob:
‘Jacob shall no more be ashamed,
no more shall his face grow pale.
For when he sees his children,
the work of my hands, in his midst,
they will sanctify my name;
they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob,
and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
And those who err in spirit will come to understanding,
and those who murmur will accept instruction.” (Isaiah 29: 22-24)

And it is St. John to whom we look for the antidote to disunity: we must become like the Apostle of Love and be known for our great love for one another.

We must focus on what we have in common – if we focus on the obstacles, then we will lose heart, because the obstacles are too great.

God has assured us that He Himself will open our eyes and ears and create unity, so that we will sanctify His name in unison.

In the meantime, our task is to love one another ‘in humility.’

Last Supper

Life to the Full

Last night, I was fortunate to be able to attend a Pro-life presentation by a former Tasmanian. The speaker showed us a DVD which was produced in Scotland, to be shown in the high schools there.

The technology that allows us a glimpse into the world of the unborn child has advanced so far, that we were able to see footage of each of the many stages that a baby goes through, from egg to embryo to foetus, then to new born baby. The DVD showed a fertilised egg travelling through the fallopian tube, then the rapidly-dividing cells of that amazing human life, then a tiny, newly-formed spinal cord and fledgling limbs, then finally, a little infant pushing off the uterus wall in order to place itself head-down, ready for its journey into its mother’s arms.

Some of the presenter’s remarks were startling – for instance, he told us that the DVD was almost unanimously well-received by students aged about 12-13 – because they were not yet sexually active. But, when shown to older, sexually active students, those around age eighteen, there was a lot of resistance to the pro-life message.

One of the night’s organizers then told us of a conversation she previously had, when promoting the talk, with a woman who claimed to be pro-choice. The pro-choice lady had admitted that her own mother had given birth to her at the age of sixteen. But, the poor woman could see no anomaly here. She didn’t seem to appreciate that her mother had been in one of the groups at the highest risk of terminating their unplanned pregnancies, but had instead chosen to give birth to, and care for her baby.

One of the most consoling features of any pro-life or pro-family event, for me, is the overwhelming atmosphere of brotherhood that exists between Catholics and our Protestant friends. We are all struggling to comprehend the attacks on life, or at the very least, the indifference that confronts us in our own churches, and we seem to cling together, almost huddled around Jesus in that aspect of Him that we all have in common; the Jesus Who loves and protects Life, the Jesus Who blesses and loves marriage, and our Jesus Who listens to those feeble voices who ‘cry out in the wilderness.’

There are two things that give me hope that we are, indeed, experiencing a springtime in the Church, that New Evangelization spoken of by our beloved John Paul II.

One is when I see the world, in its labour pains, crying out through technology to know its God, crying out in its alienation, its loneliness, its emptiness, asking God, “Do you really love me?” Can’t you see it, through all those blogs and tweets and updates, and through that often-repeated theme of internet life – our incessant search for beauty?

The other is when I join with my Protestant brothers and sisters and we try so hard to break down five hundred years of misunderstanding in those five minutes that are given to us. When we hear a speaker with whom we wholeheartedly agree, and only at the end of their presentation discover that they aren’t Catholic.