"I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren...Is Christ divided? There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all." (1 Cor 10-11, 13; Eph 4:4-6)
"You are Kepha [Peter] and on this very kepha [rock] I will build my Church." (Mat 16:18)
As we can see from Scripture, there have always been divisions in the Body of Christ, despite what Christ and St. Paul implored of us. There have been small, divisive movements here and there throughout Christian history, but we'll talk briefly about the largest movements. To Catholics and Orthodox, we believe with certainty that Christ established one Church, which spread throughout the world by his Apostles and their successors (the bishops), but that this one Church has since been divided; for the purpose of this blog post, it'll be written from mainly a Catholic point of view, plus we won't get into the "why's" surrounding the splits because that would go into way too much detail. But the Church acknowledges her share in the problem when, "quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame" (UR, 3).
The Main Periods of Division
The first sad division in the Body of Christ took place in the fifth century after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 when the Oriental Orthodox churches disagreed with the Christological teaching of that Council; since that time, they have been separated from both the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church (and, by extension, all the Protestant communities). The majority of Oriental Christians are from Ethiopia, Egypt, Eritrea, Armenia, India, Syria, and Lebanon, but can also be found throughout the world and on every continent. Over the past 50 to 60 years of mutual dialog, however, Catholic-Oriental, Orthodox-Oriental, and Anglican-Oriental relations have never been warmer and there is true hope of reconciliation.
The second sad division in the Body of Christ took place over centuries, but would come to a final break after the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. For centuries, the relationship between the Latin West and Greek East was strained. There is a diversity to the way we worship and live the Christian life, taught to us by the Apostles, but instead of seeing that diversity as complementary, both sides saw it as divisive. There was also, as always, a political element that desired to use our differences against us in order to solidify their power in politics and economics. A massacre of Latin businessmen in Sicily by Greeks in order to protect their business interests led to a massacre of Greeks by Latins in retaliation. Kings, princes, and emperors roused their people against "the other side" and divisions grew to the point that in 1054, a papal legate visiting Constantinople excommunicated the Patriarch of that city, who in turn excommunicated his Roman visitors. Finally, at the sacking of Constantinople, which involved the desecration of Orthodox holy sites, theft of their relics, violence against their people, the suppression of their religious freedom, and the robbing of their treasury, the break between Latins and Greeks was complete.
The third sad division in the Body of Christ is due to the Protestant Reformation, which gained steam starting in 1517. Believing he was a good Catholic trying to reform the Church, Martin Luther inadvertently started a break, not only with Rome, but also with the Apostolic Succession that always marked the Church, East and West. Instead of continuing the long-held beliefs and traditions of the Apostles, there was a jettison of anything deemed "unbiblical". The divisions within the Protestant world continues to grow; by the time of Luther's death there were already 100 different denominations, and by our modern day there is an estimated 300 denominations, with up to 39,000 subdivisions within those denominations. Some Protestant/Catholic relations are very warm, but others (mostly fundamentalist Protestants) refuse to work with the Catholic Church, seeing us as not Christian and a source of evil.
The classic way Christians handled these divisions was to argue, "sheep steal", and condemn each other to Hell; instead of spreading the Gospel to all peoples around the world, we've spent several centuries trying to re-convert one another. Needless to say, many people have died over the centuries never hearing the good news of the Gospel because instead of being evangelized, we were too busy sending missionaries to each other. Even today, I knew a guy who went to a Protestant seminary in order to move his family to Ireland to convert the "heathen" Catholics. I know of a Baptist who currently lives in France, a nation that isn't very friendly to either Catholics nor Protestants, even though at one time she was the most devout Catholic nation in Western Europe. I remember reading the tragic story of a teenaged Evangelical missionary who drowned off the coast of Costa Rica, having gone down there to convert Catholics to Evangelicalism. The largest growing faith in Brazil is Evangelical Christianity, with that nation being flooded by (mainly American) Protestant missionaries. Evangelicals in Nevada made headlines earlier this week - these ex-Muslims, now Evangelicals, are bursting into Catholic churches during Mass in order to condemn Catholics to hell if we don't become Evangelicals. And the stories can go on ad infinitum. It is a sad remnant of the late Middle Ages, the last vestiges of the Reformation still rearing its judgmental, ugly head.
The Second Vatican Council & Christian Unity
Regardless of our pride and confusion, the Holy Spirit draws all people to Christ; the Holy Spirit is a spirit of unity, not division. A great desire for Christian unity (called the 'ecumencial movement') arose, especially in the late 19th and 20th Century, but this movement hit an entirely new level by the 1960s. In 1962, the Catholic Church opened the Second Vatican Council, which called together over 2,000 people (mainly bishops, but also including non-Catholics and non-Christians) in order to discuss the faith and why it is still relevant to modern man. In the opening speech for the Second Vatican Council, Pope St. John XXIII said, "The Catholic Church...considers it her duty to work actively so that there may be fulfilled the great mystery of that unity, which Jesus Christ invoked with fervent prayer from His heavenly Father on the eve of His sacrifice...Indeed, if one considers well this same unity which Christ implored for His Church, it seems to shine, as it were, with a triple ray of beneficent supernal light: namely, the unity of Catholics among themselves, which must always be kept exemplary and most firm; the unity of prayers and ardent desires with which those Christians separated from this Apostolic See aspire to be united with us; and the unity in esteem and respect for the Catholic Church which animates those who follow non-Christian religions."
In the Council's document on Christian unity, the Church proclaimed, "The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council," and then goes on to celebrate the great qualities of the Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant traditions. The Church established the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which actively dialogues with Christians from around the world and from various denominations, churches, and communities, in order to better understand one another, in order to work together for the common goals of justice, charity, and the sharing of the love of Christ, and in order to foster among one another the deep desire to reunite together as one Church. This feeling is being shared by others, as similar ecumenical groups were created in other Christian communities, such as the Anglican Consultative Council, the Orthodox's Inter-Religious Dialogues Organized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Lutheran church's Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations group, and the World Council of Churches, to name just a few.
Much progress continues to be made between the Catholic and Orthodox churches (including the Oriental Orthodox), although there have been setbacks within the Protestant communities as they continue to break with tradition in matters such as female ordination, the blessing of homosexual unions, the acceptance of things such as divorce and remarriage, contraception, and even abortion, and the insistence by some Fundamentalists that the Pope is the antichrist and that Christian unity is somehow against Christ's wishes. However, regardless of differences, pan-Christian relationships have never been better, although our divisions sometimes have never seemed so insurmountable; and yet, there is hope.
Ecumenism in Action: the Anglican Ordinariate
In 1977, many people in the Catholic Church and Anglican Communion thought that unity was possible in their lifetime. Blessed Pope Paul VI said, "The pace of [ecumenism] has quickened marvelously in recent years, so that these words of hope 'The Anglican Church united not absorbed' are no longer a mere dream." Although full communion between Anglicans and Catholics has not occurred, Paul VI's words "united, not absorbed" has guided ecumenical dialog between Catholics and non-Catholics ever since.
Many Anglicans (in the US, most are commonly referred to as Episcopalians) have been seeking full communion with Rome over the last 50 years, but part of their hesitation was having to give up all the things they loved about Anglicanism. In 1980, St. John Paul II established the Pastoral Provision, which established Anglican-Use parishes within US Roman Catholic dioceses - this allowed Episcopalians who accepted the Catechism of the Catholic Church as true to enter full communion with the Church and still keep a lot of their "patrimony", such as an Anglican-style Mass based on a slight re-edit of the Book of Common Prayer (now called the Book of Divine Worship); many of their married priests were even ordained as Catholic priests. This Provision only applied to US Episcopalians, though, and Anglicans in Europe, Canada, and Australia kept seeking the same gift from Rome - it would appear in 2009 when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI would establish the Anglican Ordinariate, which made Anglicanism united with Rome a permanent fixture of the Catholic Church. With the release of the new missal Divine Worship in 2015, it became the first time in 2,000+ years of Church history where a communion rite, developed outside of the Catholic Church, was accepted by the Church and became a legitimate liturgical offering. As of right now the numbers are humble, with the Ordinariate for the United States and Canada currently at 42 parishes, 64 priests, four deacons, and roughly 20,000 faithful (of which I am one), but there is already talk of more parishes coming in and future Ordinariates being created in Latin America and the Pacific islands.
In another example of the progress of ecumenism, I have become an Oblate candidate (lay people who wish to live the Rule of St. Benedict) of the St. Benet Biscop Chapter of the Benedictine Oblates at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN, which is a Benedictine monastery that houses the Church's first group of Benedictine Oblates consisting of both Catholics and Anglicans. We'll worship together, pray together, and grow closer to God together.
It is the prayer of many Catholics that this may be a sign of hope for other Protestant communities who wish to accept Catholicism's teachings, but not have to abandon all the things they've come to love and appreciate about their Protestant heritage. As many converts can attest to, when you become Catholic you don't really abandon your previous life as a Protestant - you are actually building onto that foundation a much larger picture of the faith; the Ordinariate is putting that truth out there for everyone to see - you're not being asked to ignore your Protestant life once you become Catholic, but instead you're supplementing that with the fullness of the faith. Bishop-elect Steven Lopes of the US' Ordinariate said, "The Ordinariate has a particular role and ecumenism and evangelism are at its heart. All this touches people very deeply so it’s difficult in that sense to articulate. What I mean is that it also proposes a model for unity, corporate unity with the Catholic Church in a way that preserves our distinctiveness, and therefore preserves the gifts we bring, respects our dignity and says, you know, come and not be swallowed up but come and enrich us. So in that sense I think history will prove that the Ordinariate is a very significant ecumenical gesture."
It's been reported that some Lutherans, like Anglicans before them, want to enter full communion with the Church, but hope to hold on to their liturgical and spiritual heritage, like Anglicans can through the Anglican Ordinariate, so you never know if we might see a Lutheran Ordinariate in our lifetime.
Unity Within our Diversity
For most Westerners, our only exposure to Catholicism is from the Latin church, or as we usually refer to it as, the Roman Catholic Church; THIS is what we normally think about when we think about Catholics. However, even in the Latin church there is diversity of worship; we have the Ordinary Form (pic) and the Extraordinary Form (pic) of the Roman rite; whereas the Ordinary Form is what you'll normally run into on any given Sunday, the Extraordinary Form (not as widely available) holds to the traditions and customs that were in place in 1962, so the Mass is offered facing Christ in the tabernacle and it is an older form of the Mass with somewhat different prayers, Gregorian chant, periods of sacred silence, and the liturgy is mainly (or entirely) in Latin. There is also even a variety found in the Ordinary Form that others seem to find spiritual strength and closeness to God within them; such as the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement (pic), where the liturgy is often celebrated with a less formal feel, with more contemporary hymns, usually on guitars, keyboards, and tambourines, and with speaking in tongues. There is also the Neocatechumenal Way (pic), which has a similar music-style, but the liturgy is often much longer and Holy Communion is offered in a much different manner. These groups have different ways of evangelizing, of studying the Scriptures, of catechizing their people, but it's all in conformity with the Church's teachings; basically, there is a (possibly unintended) diversity within the Latin/Roman rite that allows most Westerners to find what they are looking for. In fact, if you go to the website for the Pontifical Council for the Laity, you'll find a directory for the many, many Associations of the Faithful that exists; I'm sure there's something for everyone there.
You might be saying to yourself, "These all, more or less, look and act Roman Catholic." That's because all the Western Christian traditions, even the most fundamentalist, has at its kernel, the original Roman rite from whence it came during the Reformation. You might say, "But what about the Orthodox? They look and act differently. What about them?" I'm glad you asked!
As mentioned a littler earlier, the Church is not just "Roman". The Church actually has seven rites: Latin, Byzantine, Alexandrian, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite, and Chaldean; these are the descendants of the liturgical practices that originated in the five ancient Sees of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, and taught to us by the Apostles; most Westerners have only seen or heard of the Latin/Roman rite, but there are parishes from around the world who hold to these other rites, which are more commonly found in the Orthodox Church, but throughout the last couple hundred years, some parishes and churches have re-entered full communion with Rome (which, sadly, has now created a division between them and their brothers and sisters within Orthodoxy). Due to globalization and immigration, many of these Christians can now be found in your hometown.
The Byzantine rite (pic) is based on the practices taught by St. James for the Antiochaian church, but later modified by St. Basil the Great (329-379) and St. John Chrysostom (344-407). Catholics who commonly use variations of this rite are Albanian, Belarussian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Slovak, and Ukrainian.
The Alexandrian rite (pic), developed by St. Mark at the See of Alexandria, is used in Egypt and a similar rite is used in Ethiopia (called the Ge'ez rite); the Christians of Egypt are usually referred to as Coptic Christians and they are part of the Oriental Orthodox churches that split from Catholics in the 400s. These are the Christians who were recently beheaded by radicals in Libya.
The Syriac rite (pic) is attributed to St. James the Apostle. When they broke away in the 400s, they stopped using Greek in their liturgy and started using the Syriac language, which is similar to Aramaic (the language of Jesus). As you can sort of tell by its name, this rite is mainly found in Syria; these are the Christians being massacred and chased out of their homeland by ISIS. Armenia, the world's first Christian nation, uses a variation of this rite (pic).
The Maronite rite (pic), a hybrid of the liturgy of St. James, was developed by St. Maron in the 4th century, who founded a monastery east of Antioch. Later the monks would move to the mountains of Lebanon, where they are mainly found today. They never left communion with Rome, but we were separated politically for centuries, thanks to Islam and the Ottoman Empire.
The Chaldean rite (pic) developed in present-day Iraq; these are the Christians being exterminated or displaced thanks to our "help" in the region.
The Syro-Malabar rite (pic) and Malankara rite (pic) developed in India. They trace their heritage to St. Thomas the Apostle ("Doubting Thomas") who traveled to South India and founded a church. The Malankarese are mainly located in Kerala State, India. The Syro-Malabar rite could be called a brother rite to the Malankarese.
To those members of these rites, those in union with Rome, they are called Catholics, although they don't look "Catholic" to Western eyes. They follow their own laws and customs, including a married priesthood. For more information on their history and beliefs, you can find links HERE. The point is that the word 'catholic' is Greek for 'universal' - we believe, as do all the churches and communities who profess the Nicene Creed, that the Church of Christ is catholic - universal - that all people from all nations and all races and all languages and all cultures are called to Communion with Jesus Christ through his Church, entering into his Body through baptism and living out our baptismal promises with the help of his grace, which is most profoundly given to us through the seven sacraments.
True, this entire posting was written through the eyes of a Catholic; there are many Orthodox who would quickly explain to me that it was the Catholic Church who broke away from them, and many Protestants would explain that they are only trying to restore what they perceive to be the "New Testament church" that became corrupted through Roman paganism and opulence. Fair enough - we each have our own point of view. But what this posting is trying to do is show how universal the faith can be, and yet doesn't have to be separated by politics, language, culture, or disagreements; Christians from around the world are already striving to follow Jesus' prayer for unity by entering full communion with Peter.
"If I can unite in myself, in my own spiritual life, the thought of the East and the West, of the Greek and the Latin Fathers, the Russians with the Spanish mystics, I will create in myself a reunion of the divided Church. From that secret and unspoken unity in myself can eventually come the exterior and visible unity of all Christians. For if we want to bring together East and West, we cannot do so by imposing one upon the other or absorbing one division into the other. We must contain both in ourselves and transcend them both in Christ." --Thomas Merton
"...the Church must breathe with her two lungs! In the first millennium of the history of Christianity, this expression refers primarily to the relationship between Byzantium and Rome...In view of all this, the Catholic Church desires nothing less than full communion between East and West. She finds inspiration for this in the experience of the first millennium." -- St. John Paul II, Ut unum sint
O GOD, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace; Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. -- 1928 Book of Common Prayer, For the Unity of God's People
Lutherans & Catholics Worshiping Together: An Example to All
A few years ago, a joint-declaration between Catholics and Lutherans was released to the public, entitled From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017. I believe in this very important, very enlightening document, Catholics and Lutherans have the proper mindset walking into the commemoration of this tragic event, the anniversary of a great and painful breaking of Communion throughout the Western world, and can serve as an example for ecumenical dialog between all Christians:
In 2017, Catholic and Lutheran Christians will most fittingly look back on events that occurred 500 years earlier by putting the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center...To this joy also belongs a discerning, self-critical look at ourselves, not only in our history, but also today. We Christians have certainly not always been faithful to the gospel; all too often we have conformed ourselves to the thought and behavioral patterns of the surrounding world. Repeatedly, we have stood in the way of the good news of the mercy of God. Both as individuals and as a community of believers, we all constantly require repentance and reform—encouraged and led by the Holy Spirit...The true unity of the church can only exist as unity in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The fact that the struggle for this truth in the sixteenth century led to the loss of unity in Western Christendom belongs to the dark pages of church history. In 2017, we must confess openly that we have been guilty before Christ of damaging the unity of the church. This commemorative year presents us with two challenges: the purification and healing of memories, and the restoration of Christian unity in accordance with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:4–6)...
It is no longer adequate simply to repeat earlier accounts of the Reformation period, which presented Lutheran and Catholic perspectives separately and often in opposition to one another...What happened in the past cannot be changed, but what is remembered of the past and how it is remembered can, with the passage of time, indeed change...Lutherans and Catholics have many reasons to retell their history in new ways. They have been brought closer together through family relations, through their service to the larger world mission, and through their common resistance to tyrannies in many places...Ecumenical dialogue means being converted from patterns of thought that arise from and emphasize the differences between the confessions. Instead, in dialogue the partners look first for what they have in common and only then weigh the significance of their differences. These differences, however, are not overlooked or treated casually, for ecumenical dialogue is the common search for the truth of the Christian faith...Even though Lutherans and Catholics have different points of view, because of ecumenical dialogue they are able to overcome traditional anti-Protestant and anti-Catholic hermeneutics in order to find a common way of remembering past events...
As members of one body, Catholics and Lutherans remember together the events of the Reformation that led to the reality that thereafter they lived in divided communities even though they still belonged to one body. That is an impossible possibility and the source of great pain. Because they belong to one body, Catholics and Lutherans struggle in the face of their division toward the full catholicity of the church...In 2017, when Lutheran Christians celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, they are not thereby celebrating the division of the Western church. No one who is theologically responsible can celebrate the division of Christians from one another.
Putting these words into practice, Pope Francis surprised many people this week when he announced that he would personally attend a commemoration of the Reformation on October 31st (2017) in the southern Swedish city of Lund. According to the official press release, "The event will include a common worship based on the recently published Catholic-Lutheran “Common Prayer” liturgical guide. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is approaching the Reformation anniversary in a spirit of ecumenical accountability," says LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge. "I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence." The year 2017 will also mark 50 years of the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, which has yielded notable ecumenical results, of which most significant is the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). The JDDJ was signed by the LWF and the Catholic Church in 1999, and affirmed by the World Methodist Council in 2006. The declaration nullified centuries’ old disputes between Catholics and Lutherans over the basic truths of the doctrine of justification, which was at the center of the 16th century Reformation.
From Conflict to Communion goes on to explain how the Church views herself: The church is the body of Christ. As there is only one Christ, so also he has only one body. Through baptism, human beings are made members of this body. The Second Vatican Council teaches that people who are baptized and believe in Christ but do not belong to the Roman Catholic church “have been justified by faith in Baptism [and] are members of Christ’s body and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church” (UR 1.3). Lutheran Christians say the same of their Catholic fellow Christians.
Christians United by Blood: Common Martyrs
Pope Francis reminds us of our common brotherhood when he speaks of the ecumenism of blood. "Today more than ever we are united by the ecumenism of blood, which further encourages us on the path toward peace and reconciliation...I remembered [Coptic Pope Tawadros II's] faithful whose throats were slit on the beach (in Libya in February) because they were Christians...In this moment of prayer for unity, I would also like to remember our martyrs, the martyrs of today...They are witnesses to Jesus Christ, and they are persecuted and killed because they are Christians. Those who persecute them make no distinction between the religious communities to which they belong. They are Christians and for that they are persecuted. This, brothers and sisters, is the ecumenism of blood...Unity happens when we walk together."
In an interview with La Stampa in Italy, Pope Francis continues this theme: "Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill, we are Christians. We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for. I knew a parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism. After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: "I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest's." This is what ecumenism of blood is. It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don't ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptized in. We need to take these facts into consideration."
When Pope Francis visited Uganda last month, he visited a site where Anglican and Catholic missionaries & catechumens (45 men – 23 Anglicans and 22 Catholics) were burned alive between 1885 and 1887 because they would not have ritual homosexual sex with Uganda's king. Anglican Archbishop Stanley Ntagali said, "The Roman Catholic martyrs died for the same Jesus Christ as the Anglican martyrs. Together, they suffered; together, they sacrificed; together, they sang. Together, their blood has been the seed of the church in Uganda."
Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, continues to reinforce this truth: "The most concrete steps toward unity, therefore, are not those that are made around a table or in joint declarations (even though these are all important and indispensable); they are the ones made when believers and especially leaders of different denominations, in spite of all their differences, meet together to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus, to share their charisms and recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ."
In his sermon to the General Synod of the Church of England, of which he was an invited guest, Fr Cantalamessa said, "The Christian world is preparing to celebrate the fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation. It is vital for the whole Church that this opportunity is not wasted by people remaining prisoners of the past, trying to establish each other’s rights and wrongs. Rather, let us take a qualitative leap forward, like what happens when the sluice gates of a river or a canal enable ships to continue to navigate at a higher water level. The situation has dramatically changed since then. We need to start again with the person of Jesus, humbly helping our contemporaries to experience a personal encounter with Him...This does not mean ignoring the great theological and spiritual enrichment that came from the Reformation or desiring to go back to the time before it. It means instead allowing all of Christianity to benefit from its achievements, once they are freed from certain distortions due to the heated atmosphere of the time and of later controversies...Unity is not a simple matter. One has to start with the big Churches, those that are well structured, putting together that which unites them, which is vastly more important than what divides them; not imposing uniformity but aiming at what pope Francis calls “reconciled diversities”. Nothing is more important than to fulfil Christ’s heart's desire for unity expressed in today’s gospel. In many parts of the world people are killed and churches burned not because they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostals, but because they are Christians. In their eyes we are already one! Let us be one also in our eyes and in the eyes of God."
Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, touched by all of this, addressed the Synod: "The presence among us today of the Preacher to the Papal Household would not have been possible but for the notable advances since 1970 in co-operation across the great Christian traditions. There are many other examples. The Covenant between the Church of England and the Methodist Church; the recent visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch; the participation in this Synod of observers from so many Christian traditions; the newly created ecumenical community of St Anselm at Lambeth. Each of these serves as a reminder both of the progress already made, and of the journey that still lies ahead, in the pursuit of Christian unity."
Recently, the Catholic Church (and many non-Catholic communities) have engaged in the annual Week for Christian Unity, a week filled with prayers to God for a unified Christian church and voice. Most poignantly, Pope Francis appeared with representatives from the Orthodox, Anglican, Pentecostal, and other Christian communities to jointly pray for an end to our divisions. Pope Francis said, "We will move forward on the road to full visible communion among Christians not only when we get closer to one another, but especially when we are converted to the Lord, that by his grace chooses us and calls us to be his disciples...it’s not only the call which unites us, but we [also] share the same mission: to proclaim the wonderful works of God...The mission of the whole people of God is to proclaim the wonderful deeds of the Lord, above all the Paschal mystery of Christ, through whom we have passed from the darkness of sin and death, the glory of his life, the new and eternal." Although not the first Pope to do so, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for those times when Catholics were not very Christian towards non-Catholics. "As Bishop of Rome and Shepherd of the Catholic Church, I plead for mercy and forgiveness for non-evangelical behaviors by Catholics against Christians of other churches...We can not undo what has been, but we will not allow the weight of past sins to continue to pollute our relationships. The mercy of God renewed our relationships."
I cannot begin to recommend enough the videos and stories from The Coming Home Network and the EWTN program The Journey Home, where you get to hear the conversion (or reversion) stories of Protestants, Jews, fallen-away Catholics, and atheists as they've discovered the truth of Christ and the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church; I've learned so much about others, and myself, by watching these interviews.
May we all be one, as Jesus prayed and St. Paul encouraged, and ignore the lies of the devil who is fooling Christians into thinking Christian unity is the work of the antichrist. Satan is scared to death of Christian unity, which is why he has worked so hard to prevent it from occurring in our time. But, as Jesus Christ promised, the gates of hell will not prevail against his Church, led by the Holy Spirit and build upon the rock of Peter. Jesus promised that if we were one, the world would believe that the Father has sent the Son for the salvation of the world. If we're unhappy with the way things are going in the world, it just might be because we are not united, that the world does not believe, and that is on our heads. I think it is fitting to end this posting with this prayer for Christian unity by Pope Francis:
Dear brothers and sisters, today all of us who thirst for peace and fraternity trustingly implore from our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ our one priest and mediator, and through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostle Paul and all the saints, the gift of full communion between all Christians, so that “the sacred mystery of the unity of the Church” (UR, 2) may shine forth as the sign and instrument of reconciliation for the whole world. Amen.