A little longer musing on Christian Unity…
My musings on Christian unity began out of a purely personal quest. Just over a year ago, I began dating, a wonderful, holy, Christian man…who isn’t Catholic. (I’ll let that settle so the staunch Catholic and Protestant naysayers in the room warm up to the idea!) What began as a quest to see if I could date someone, surprisingly turned out to be a search that threw me into the throes of a much deeper call. I found that although the question of Christian unity might have begun in my dating life, its reach continues to take me into the very heart of Christianity.
I grew up nominally Catholic and through the grace of a movement called Catholic Christian Outreach, came to have a much deeper conversion which brought me barreling back into the Catholic faith towards the end of my university degree. I’ve spent much of my time with Catholics and Protestants alike, so thought I had no real questions or qualms with Protestantism, but dating has a way of bringing out the harder questions so that we cannot ignore them. It’s the same reason why I often meet students who come to our Catholic clubs day booth because “my boyfriend is Catholic so I thought I’d learn more”.
I couldn’t ignore many questions in dating Derek. “If one side is right, then the other side must be wrong… right?” “I didn’t begin the reformation! Why should I have to clean up?” “How can we share common practices in prayer if the Eucharist is so integral to my life?” “Why would God invite two people of different faith traditions to date?” Most often, I found, just identifying my questions was half the journey. One day, I’d like to write a much longer series on what I’ve learned in my Catholic/protestant dating thus far, but y’all will have to wait a little longer for that.
A lot of my wrestling on the topic of Christian unity recently came to a head over the Christmas break, when I attended a large missions-conference called Urbana. 16 000 passionate, young Christians gathered to pray for the persecuted church in St. Louis, Missouri. They came from all over the world to learn more about how to serve in the global church. I highly recommend Urbana to anyone who has the opportunity to go.
There, I experienced great unity and friendship with protestant brothers and sisters in worship, prayer, and dialogue, but I also experienced much disunity. One seminar I attended spoke as if Catholics weren’t even Christians. The seminar speaker shared some completely incorrect teachings of the Catholic Church which left me quite defensive. When the time of the communion service came around and I did not partake of communion, I felt in that moment a profound sadness wash over me. I was hurt that many Christians I encountered did not even view Catholics as Christians and I could feel not only the disunity of my own dating relationship, but also the divisions of many Christians. It was a sadness I couldn’t quite comprehend.
I left with many questions on the topic of ecumenism after leaving Urbana. My profound sadness left me hungry for answers. While I felt Jesus continue to give me much peace for my dating relationship, I couldn’t help but feel complete unrest on the topic of Christian unity.
Over a year ago, a wise man at work introduced me to the writings of a woman named Chiara Lubich. I had read a couple things she penned with mild interest, but after Urbana, I plunged myself into her writings like an empty camel takes to the last watering hole in existence.
Chiara, a candidate for canonization and confidante to both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, was a woman who began an international movement called Focolare. She consecrated herself entirely to God and gathered people to read the Gospels which, has now evolved into the Focolare movement. She was a major force in spearheading ecumenical dialogue. Jews, Buddhists and Muslims also regularly attended talks she gave and encountered there healing through dialogue and renewed understanding of the person of Jesus.
Early into the forming of Focolare, Chiara wrote,
“The book of light that God is writing in my soul has two aspects: a luminous page of mysterious love: Unity. A luminous page of mysterious suffering: Jesus forsaken. These are two faces of the same coin.”
On the topics of the Forsaken Jesus and dialogue, Lubich went onto write,
“An ecumenical spirituality will flourish to the degree that those dedicated to it see in the crucified and abandoned Jesus (Mt. 27:46), who re-abandons Himself to the Father (Lk. 23:46), the key to understanding every disunity and to recomposing unity. A productive ecumenism demands hearts touched by Him, that do not evade Him, but understand Him, love Him, choose Him, and know how to see Him in His divine face in every disunity they meet. And they find in Him the light and the strength not to stop in trauma, in the fracture of division, but always to go beyond and to find a solution, the complete, achievable solution…This [unity] is a gift which makes less painful the time of waiting until we can all share in one Eucharist.”
I found in Chiara a wealth of a person who had walked these same paths and explored my questions years before not just in an intellectual capacity, but in a real, lived experience.
St. John Paul the Great in his encyclical on Christian Unity affirmed many of Lubich’s sentiments and stressed a sort of “unity through plurality.” Lubich then expanded upon his writing saying,
“It is not that one Church or another must “die” (as at times it is feared), but that each Church should be born anew in unity.”
During the week of prayer for Christian unity in 2014, Pope Francis said,
“Unity will not come about as a miracle at the very end. Rather unity comes about in journeying. To journey together is already to be making unity…If we do not walk together, if we do not pray for one another, if we do not collaborate in the many ways that we can in this world for the people of God, then unity will not come about.”
I do believe that there are a variety of gifts and services and activities (Corinth 12) but I also am beginning to see that in some way, we are each called to work towards unity. Chiara Lubich first heard Jesus call to her when reading John 17:21: “Father…may they all be one.” Jesus Himself, prayed for unity before dying. Not too long from now, with the rising influences of Islam and the ever growing diversity in our cultures, we will face a greater urgency for unity amongst Christians. Lubich said that this is the greatest urgency of the third millenium. I think all will have to face these same questions soon and sooner regardless of whom one chooses to date 😉
Here are just a couple ideas to start the dialogue on unity:
- Read Chiara Lubich’s writings or JP2’s document ‘Ut Unum Sint‘ on unity
- Attend a Christian service after Mass one Sunday and have dialogue with Christian brothers and sisters
- Get to know Muslim friends and their traditions, read the Quran – perhaps you could share the bible with them too one day
In this week of prayer for Christian unity, I look with hope towards the time where we can all share in one Eucharist.
Would love to hear your thoughts,