"A lay Catholic perspective"

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Prayer for Unity

by Christine Kaskiw

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THAT THEY MAY BE ONE! As the Third Millenium approaches, Pope John Paul II's encyclical Ut Unum Sint sent an invitation for the faithful to embrace the Church's commitment to ecumenism. Vatican II opened the door to ecumenism when it "committed herself to reexamining herself in the light of the Gospel."[1] The Council Fathers called the Catholic Church to enter an ongoing process of conversion with the goal of seeking full unity with all Christians. In Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul reflected on Vatican II's teachings concerning ecumenism while revealing the action of the Holy Spirit moving throughout the Church to accomplish this momentous task. This encyclical testified to the power of God moving beyond the human limitations of achieving unity. Pope John Paul II expressed the Church's conviction that full unity will become a reality.

"The unity of all divided humanity is the will of God. For this reason he sent his Son, so that by dying and rising for us he might bestow on us the Spirit of Love."[2] Lack of unity among Christians is serious and tarnishes our witness of proclaiming the Good News. To restore unity, the Holy Father invites us to first seek personal conversion. This difficult yet rewarding process begins when Jesus convinces us of our sinfulness and our need for his forgiveness. Christ's love inspires forgiveness and reconciliation. At these times the consolation we experience is tremendous and the gifts of love and prayer flow from us.

During Vatican II, the Catholic Church acknowledged that the lack of unity that exists "cannot be attributed only to the other side."[3] Furthermore the Church stressed its need for continual reformation as well as the need to amend situations which have been unnecessary sources of hurt among other Christian Churches. These remarkable statements reflected the conversion process the Catholic Church has embarked upon. Vatican II established ecumenism as one of the Church's most important priorities. The Council also invited other delegates from other churches to participate in its discussions. This invitation provided the basis for the ongoing dialogue concerning unity that exists today.

Prayers offered for the success of unity powerfully unite Christians before Jesus our Redeemer. Our faith in the saving action of God is united. This is significant in that "when Christians pray together, the goal of unity seems closer."[4] I have been blessed with opportunities to pray with dear sisters and brothers from other Christian Churches. Their love for Jesus and zeal in preaching the Gospel edified me. In particular, one Christian couple has dedicated one day of each month for the past ten years to pray for my family's and community's ministry. Prayer lays the foundation for mature dialogue between the Catholic Church and other Christian Churches.

Sincere dialogue among Churches requires a Christian maturity founded in seeking reconciliation and the truth. A fruit of this maturity is the Catholic Church's statement that "a certain though imperfect communion exists and the Catholic Church is in many ways linked with these communities by a true union in the Holy Spirit."[5] Another important element of this type of dialogue is patience and tenderness in explaining Catholic Church teachings that remain sources of division. The Church has gone to great lengths "to eliminate words, judgements and actions which do not respond to the condition of separated brethren with truth, fairness and so make mutual relation between them more difficult."[6] Moreover, ecumenical meetings and gatherings in prayer have often revealed that both sides share the same viewpoint on certain issues that were once sources of disharmony.

Ecumenism has progressed tremendously since Vatican II. The issues that are in the process of being studied are "the relationship between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition; the Eucharist as the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; Ordination, as a Sacrament; the Magisterium of the Church entrusted to the Pope and Bishops; and the Virgin Mary, as Mother of God."[7] These points are essential elements of the Catholic faith and though coming to a full consensus seems slow, these points are not meant to stall the ecumenism process but prevent it "from settling for apparent solutions which would lead to no form and solid results."[8]

As Catholics, embracing the commitment to ecumenism is challenging. Yet, wonderfully through the sacraments we have received, we have the opportunity to create a place of peace for our separated sisters and brothers in the Catholic Church. Through our conversion, prayers and dialogue we will "draw the Christian Communities into this completely interior spiritual space in which Christ, by the power of the Sprit, leads them all to examine themselves before the Father and to ask themselves whether they have been faithful to his plan for the Church."[9] Jesus' invitation to embrace the call of humility among our Christian sisters and brothers is a wonderful honor and privilege. We also should ask for the intercession of the saints with whom the Church shares a Common Martyrology with[10] other Christian Churches. Their intercession on behalf of unity is crucial. These saints "embraced martyria unto death, the truest communion possible with Christ and by the sacrifice bring near those who once where far off."[11]

The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 is a significant event for Christians. The Catholic Church has dedicated 1998 to the Holy Spirit in preparing for the Jubilee. As Catholics we should fervently pray that "the Holy Spirit guide us along the way of reconciliation, so that the unity of our Churches may become an ever more radiant sign of hope and consolation for all mankind."[12] Amen!


[1] Ut Unum Sint, 17

[2] Ibid., 6

[3] Ibid., 11

[4] Ibid., 22

[5] Ibid., 11

[6] Ibid., 29

[7] Ibid., 79

[8] Ibid., 79

[9] Ibid., 82

[10] Ibid., 82

[11] Ibid., 84

[12] Ibid., 99