From the Pastor: Abide in My Love | January 16, 2021
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins on January 18th, the traditional Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (in 1962 its celebration was moved to February 22nd), and concludes on January 25th, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The theme for this year’s observance is taken from the 15th chapter of the Gospel According to St. John: “Abide in my love…you shall bear much fruit.”
All those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior share the desire to cooperate with God’s grace and join in the mission of establishing God’s kingdom on earth. And yet throughout the centuries, Christians have been at odds with one another on a whole host of matters, from fundamental issues of doctrine to arcane issues of ritual. Wars have been fought and lives lost to preserve a flawed sense of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. At the intersection of flawed reasoning and human frailty, the name Christian has been used to sow division and incite conflict.
To what end then are we invited to pray this week for Christian Unity? Do we merely seek to settle into a safe haven of harmony, or do we dare to delve deeper into the very prayer of Jesus to his Father, “that all may be one, as you Father, are in me and I in you.” (Jn 17:20)
The theme of this year’s observance provides us with a lens through which we can consider what we are praying for. At face value, it appears to be easy enough. “Abide in my love.” Aren’t we already doing that? We say our prayers. We provide for our families. We help our neighbors. We are, in various degrees, committed Catholics and faithful members of this parish. Perhaps our attention should be on “you shall bear much fruit.” We have a good work ethic that we instill in our children and model for our colleagues and co-workers. We have earned the respect and, at times, admiration, of others. So all things considered, this will be an easy week of prayer for us because we have checked all the boxes. Or, have we?
In many past conflicts among Christians, all the boxes were checked. Good Christians, God-fearing, all the actors considered themselves to be on the side of the angels, defending truth and vanquishing apostates, heretics, and infidels. They often reaped the damaged fruits of their unholy labor, the spoils of war. They accumulated power, status, and an inflated sense of self-worth. Righteous warriors? Perhaps. Christian? I have my doubts.
The elusive and least understood quality that defines who we are as Christian is Love. Without it we may yet consider ourselves good citizens of the world; with it, we can transform the world. The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity situates us squarely at the heart of the matter if we are to attain unity, unity among Christians, and more importantly, a union with God.
In his prayer to his Father in heaven, Jesus revealed where love is to be found and how it is to be attained. It requires a continual and radical conversion of heart so that we act in selfless ways and build bridges rather than walls; we reach out to the anawim of our times – the poor, the homeless, the powerless, innocent victims of hatred, bigotry, and abuse; we care for our common home, the earth itself; and we recognize in one another the very face of God. Only then will we be one with God and experience unity with one another.
Christian Unity is well worth our effort in prayer. It is not an illusory notion. It is a habit of the heart that brings us closer together as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, striving to imitate his life of service so that we too may be in union with our heavenly Father. To be one with God is to abide in love; and to acknowledge and accept one another as sisters and brothers who share a bond of love in the name of Jesus Christ will surely bear much fruit.
– Dennis J. Yesalonia, S.J., Pastor