“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:20-21)
Pope Francis interrupted his catechesis on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit this week to recap his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the motto of which was “So that they may be one.” The Holy Father referred to his meeting with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at the site of the Holy Sepulcher as the “culminating moment of the visit.”
The Pope lamented the great suffering caused by disunity and division among Christians, but also spoke of the great hope and fraternity demonstrated by this meeting saying:
“We are all brothers in Christ and, with Patriarch Bartholomew, we are friends, brothers and we shared the will to walk together, to do everything that we can do today: pray together, work together for God’s flock, seek peace, protect Creation, so many things that we have in common. And, as brothers, we must go forward.”
He later “exhorted Christians” in the region to promote peace by allowing “themselves to be “anointed” by the Holy Spirit with an open and docile heart, to be ever more capable of gestures of humility, brotherhood and reconciliation.”
As a Catholic wife and mother living far from the Holy Land, it is tempting for me to view Pope Francis’ pilgrimage as something happening at a distance; to think of the path to Christian unity as a journey that the church’s hierarchy must make; and to view the challenge to promote peace as one applicable to those unfortunate enough to live in areas of political unrest. This temptation, like most, is a first-rate lie.
The responsibility for Christian unity and peace resides in the heart of every Baptized person. We are all called to heed the Lord’s words to “be one” and in doing so bear credible witness to an unbelieving world. It is our duty to live out the Holy Father’s challenge to be “artisans of peace”, a task which demands that we approach the Lord daily, “with an open heart so that God’s gift will come.” Here are three ways which we can continue the spirit and mission of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage:
Pray for Christian unity and peace. Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, teaches that the “change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement” (art 21) We should, in our daily prayers fervently echo Jesus’ own prayer for unity among believers.
Seek common ground. Our dealings with other Christians often take a polemical tone. We sense that we need to be prepared to deal out an answer to every question or objection– to “defend the faith” at all costs. While doctrinal differences do matter and will need to be overcome in order for true unity to happen, in our day-to-day interactions it is far more edifying and productive to focus on the areas in which we are already united. The Pope’s meeting took place at the site of our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead, which is a central point of unity and communion for all Christians. When we are tempted to slip into arguments and division, let us together fix our eyes on the Risen Christ as the source of all unity.
With humility, ask for forgiveness. Like the Popes who have gone before him, Pope Francis spoke at his audience of having asked, on his Pilgrimage, for “forgiveness for what we did to foster this division.” We, too, need to imitate our Holy Father in being quick to ask for and extend forgiveness for hurts both inflicted and received. The ability to live a life of mercy is essential for unity to occur at all levels of human relationships – within marriages, families, parishes and communities. We can only hope for unity among all Christians if we are first taking steps in our individual lives to concretely promote that unity.
Once again, in this week’s audience, Pope Francis has demonstrated by his words and his actions how we as Catholics should live. Let us go forth from sitting in the front row and listening to Francis to putting into practice his powerful messages in our daily lives.
What are some ways you foster unity in your life?