January 15, 2022 Essay: Christian Unity: A Beacon of Hope for the World

Jan 13, 2022

Can you hear in the distance, or perhaps even closer, the dissonant chords being played around you? A score of sharp notes of unease and anxiety appears at times to be building to a crescendo within a rhapsody of uncertainty. The world we so deeply love, one filled with tender memories and hopeful dreams, seems more than ever in peril. Forces beyond our control fiendishly fuel self-destructive tendencies and behavior. The dissonance is, at times, deafening. It has the capacity to transform our treasured values into cynical illusions of what we imagine will secure the seductive demon of self-interest.

And yet, beneath the pages of this dissonant score, there is the faint murmur of sweet notes struggling to create a serene symphony of concord, accompanied by a chorus of voices joined in common purpose to proclaim the inherent goodness of the world God has created.

Among the sweet notes of harmony is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It begins on 18 January, the traditional feast day of the Chair of St. Peter, and concludes on 25 January, the feast day of the Conversion of St. Paul. The theme for this year’s octave of prayer is: We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship Him. Mt 2:2. During this time Christians around the world are invited to pray for unity among themselves as a witness to their belief in Jesus Christ and their common mission to proclaim God’s kingdom on Earth. It is a time of hope, not simply for every Christian denomination, but for the world.

Regrettably, for centuries there has been a dissonance among Christian denominations. Wars have been fought and lives sacrificed on the altars of fear, jealousy, greed, mistrust, and arrogance. Behavior failed to reflect belief. The dark powers of chaos and confusion reveled as disciples of Jesus Christ parried to gain advantage over one another to claim the mantle of true and faithful witnesses. The strident chord of pride thwarted unity and concord. The voices of evangelization were muted to a whisper and were not heard above the din of the polarizing clarion calls of commerce, politics, and protest.

The octave of prayer that we are about to enter promotes our efforts to make the dissonance among Christians a vestige of history. To pray together, while respecting the differences among us, unites us at the deepest level, committed to the same mission of proclaiming God’s kingdom to a world desperately in search of understanding and peace.

The theme for this year’s octave of prayer, of following the path of the Magi to Christ, could not be more apt for the times in which we live. Sadly, we have found solace not only in isolating ourselves from the contagion of others but in demonizing those who are different. We vilify rather than help those who are homeless or poor. We criminalize rather than assist those seeking refuge from war, injustice, and starvation. We distrust rather than listen to those who hold views different from ours. We glorify power, and we condemn weakness. Dissonance has become the hallmark of a global culture. We are a nation and a world divided. And now, like the Magi who looked East, we seek the light that will illumine our way out of this maze of deafening contradictions of how we live among ourselves.

The Week of Prayer of Christian Unity is a sure sign of what is possible when people truly live what they profess. It is our faith in Jesus Christ that unites us. It is our shared mission to proclaim God’s kingdom on earth that opens our minds and hearts to the reality of God’s love for all that God has created. Love and fellowship unite us. By our unity as Christians, we are a beacon of hope for the world.

– Dennis J. Yesalonia, S.J., Pastor