Sunday, March 19, 2006

Hope for Christian Unity

Before I converted to Catholicism I spent some time in Evangelical churches, and alhtough they were generally enjoyable places to worship, I was very surprised by the amount of hostility some Protestants had to the Catholic Church. It was during this time (while I was still in University) that I first came upon the passage in John 17 where Jesus prays for all believers.

Jesus prayed, "I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. . . . May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:20-23 NIV)

I believe this passage says a lot, but the most obvious messages to me right now are: 1 - That it's God's will that Christians be unified. 2 - That unity is part of our witness to the world, and therefore our disunity is a negative witness to the world.

There are many examples of our disunity; many evangelicals still produce anti-Catholic tracts, and until very recently, Christians were killing Christians in Northern Ireland. Another area of disunity that's not as visible has been the split between Catholic and Orthodox Christians, this split is seen particularly in places like Russia and the Ukraine.

Pope John Paul the Great wanted desperately to heal this rift with our Orthodox brothers, however, the rapid expansion of the Catholic Church especially in areas that had been traditionally Orthodox meant that his efforts were often diplomatically rebuffed by the Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, and other Orthodox traditionalists.

This week there was an encouraging sign of goodwill between Pope Benedict XVI and Alexy II. The two exchanged gifts and letters signaling their intent to work together to promote a vision of peace and Christian values as an alternative to secularization. (FYI- the Pope gave the Patriarch a 'gold medal of the pontificate' and the Patriarch gave the Pope a pectoral cross.) There is of course, a great deal of hurtful history to overcome, but perhaps this is a sign that healing and reconciliation among Christians can continue.

It may be time to join with Christ in praying for the unity of all believers so that our witness can be strengthened.

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