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Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - The Future

Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Godzdogz has marked this week of prayer for Christian unity by reflecting on both the unity of the Church in the first millennium, and on what the sacrifice of the reformation martyrs means for the ecumenical project today. As a conclusion to this mini-series, Fr Benjamin Earl OP has very kindly allowed us to post his sermon from last Friday’s Mass for Christian Unity at Blackfriars. Here Fr Benjamin looks to the future, and considers what we can do to heal the rifts in the Body of Christ.

Readings: 1 Samuel 24: 3-21; Psalm 57; Mark 3: 13-19

One curious and constant feature of David’s relationship with Saul is the reverence that the young man shows for the older king. Remember that the Lord has already declared Saul to be displeasing to him, and Samuel has anointed David as king in his place. Remember too that Saul has unjustly taken against David and tried to kill him. Despite all this, David will not allow any hand to be put forth against Saul, the Lord’s anointed, his “Christ”. To dishonour the one anointed by God, is to dishonour God himself.

I wonder whether perhaps David’s devotion and honour towards Saul, one “anointed one” to another, could perhaps be taken as a model in this week of prayer for Christian Unity. It is certainly true that Christians down the centuries have been perpetrators of violence against their fellow Christians, whether for political, economic or theological reasons. Even in centuries when violence and killing have been less prevalent, disrespect, distrust and hatred have abounded.

But Christians, in their baptism, have been made like Christ. We too have been anointed at our baptism – literally and sacramentally anointed in the case of Catholics and Orthodox; at least conformed with the anointed Christ in the case of all the baptised. If we dishonour our fellow Christian – no matter what he or his forebears may have done to us or our forebears, or vice versa – if we dishonour the Christian we dishonour Christ whose name the Christian bears.
So respect for our fellow Christian, and forgiveness for sins past must be the starting point for us as we embark on any ecumenical journey.

Respect and forgiveness is vital; but as Catholics we cannot stop there. A Catholic understanding of what it is to be a Christian requires that the Christian be part of the communion that is Christ’s mystical body, a body that we Christians have failed to care for as we should. The ecumenical project will only be completed when that damage is repaired and all Christians are united in full communion.

Realistically, the goal of full communion is something we at least are likely to have to wait until the next world to see; but that does not mean that there is nothing else for us to do here and now.

Starting with a recognition of the Christian dignity of all the baptised, we can and should accept where we are, and do what we can to advance unity. We should, first of all, pray that Christians may be one, as the Father and the Son are one (cf. Jn 19:21). We pray that increasingly we may all be one in this world, and enjoy together the fullness of truth in the next. But also we co-operate wherever we can act better together: in works of charity in particular. We can also simply talk to one another in fraternal, honest and open discussions that lead to an increase in understanding. Sometimes Christians will be able to work together in the footsteps of the apostles in bringing the Christian message to a society losing touch with its Christian roots.

It is true that for most of us at a local level we won’t be able to resolve the serious theological difficulties and differences in discipline – those cannot be ignored, but will need to be tackled globally. They are bigger than us, and the Lord’s temple, scandalously dilapidated through human sinfulness, cannot be restored in a day through our labour alone. But if that temple is to be restored, even the smallest of the living stones of the building will need to come together, standing side by side, cemented in the love of Christ. That work of love at least is a work that can begin now, as we remember this week. May the Lord who has begun the good work in us bring it to perfection.

Nicholas Crowe OP


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