The Catholic Spirit asked Father Erich Rutten, who serves on the Archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, to explain to readers as we celebrate the Jan. 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: “What makes Christian unity relevant today?”
We know from our own lives that relationships have their ups and downs. There are times of closer unity and times of strain. Relationships among Christians are no different.
2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which ushered in great enthusiasm and high hopes for Christian unity. Indeed, historic progress has been made in both theological agreements and “day to day” relationships.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, reminds us of this amazing progress in his book “Harvesting the Fruits.” But, with steps forward, there have also been new challenges.
One example of the ups and downs is the relationship of Lutherans and Anglicans to the Roman Catholic Church.
While we have shared vast agreement on many things, and achieved the mind-blowing historic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, we have also experienced new tensions related to their change in teaching regarding human sexuality and sacramental orders.
Another example is the relationship of some evangelical Christians to the Roman Catholic Church. While evangelicals have traditionally objected to concepts of sacramentality, hierarchy and the role of Mary, many seem to be warming due to a revival of patristic studies.
In addition, evangelicals are finding more reason to respect Catholics, due to our shared views on the sanctity of life, the biblical definition of marriage and the importance of religious freedom in our secularized culture.
A mandate from Christ
In the midst of these changes and challenges, Pope Benedict reminds us of the mandate we have from the Lord himself to constantly work for truth, reconciliation, unity and love.
That mandate is important because reconciliation is the nature of our new life in Christ. It is also important because of how essential unity is to our witness of the Good News in Christ — “They will know you are Christians by your love.”
Thus, one of the most urgent reasons for our ongoing prayer and work for Christian unity is to strengthen our ability to evangelize in our secularized and often hostile world.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, the current president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has suggested that the persecution of Christians around the globe, and especially in areas such as the Middle East and Asia, may be ushering in a new reality called an ecumenism of martyrs. At the same time that we are reaching out to our Jewish, Muslim and other interreligious friends, it is more important than ever that we appreciate the depth of commitment of our brother and sister Christians in our neighborhoods and around the globe.
There is an old saying, “Act as if it all depends on me. Pray as if it all depends on God.”
Prayer is indeed the true life of ecumenism. Let us pray for Christian unity this week and throughout the year.
Father Erich Rutten is chaplain and campus ministry director at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
Why and how should we pray for Christian unity?
The Archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs offered the following answers to why and how we should pray for Christian Unity. For more information on the Jan. 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, visit http://www.geii.org.
Why should we pray for Christian Unity?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her. This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples” (CCC 820). When we pray for the unity of all Christians, we join in Christ’s ceaseless prayer “that they may all be one.”
How should I pray for Christian Unity?
- Reflection on relevant Scripture passages, such as John 17:20-23 (Jesus’ prayer for unity), Acts 2 (the unifying work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost), Ephesians 2:14-20 (Christ’s ministry of reconciliation).
- A rosary to Our Lady with the intention of healing the wounds to the unity of Christ’s body.
- Pray the Our Father, a prayer shared by Christians around the world.
- More resources for prayer can be found at the Vatican website.
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