(This is Neil.) Like last year (and the year before), I would like to share each day’s biblical reflections and prayers with you. They can be found on the Vatican’s website here, and, in PDF form, on the World Council of Churches website here.
Pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17)
Paul writes “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”. His epistle is written to a faithful community that is anxious about death. Many good and believing brothers and sisters have “fallen asleep” before the Lord’s return to bring all into his resurrection. What will happen to these faithful dead? What will happen to the living? Paul assures them that the dead shall be raised with the living and exhorts them to “pray without ceasing”. What does it mean to pray without ceasing? We find insights to answer this question in today’s readings. Our whole lives are to be a seeking of the Lord, convinced that in seeking, we shall find.
In the midst of the Exile, when all seemed hopeless and dry, the prophet Isaiah proclaims, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near”. Even in exile, the Lord is near and urging his people to turn to him in prayer and to follow his commandments so that they may know his mercy and pardon. Psalm 34 affirms the prophetic conviction that the Lord will answer those who call upon him, and adds praise to the call to pray without ceasing.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples with the parable of the widow seeking justice from a judge who neither feared God nor respected people. The story serves as a reminder of the need for constancy in prayer – “to pray always and not to lose heart” – and for confidence that prayer is answered: “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”
As Christians in search of unity, we reflect on these readings to find “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”. It is Christ who lives within us. Our call to pray without ceasing becomes part of his eternal intercession to the Father: “that all may be one, … that the world may believe…”. The unity we seek is unity ‘as Christ wills’ and the ‘octave’ observance of Christian prayer for unity reflects the biblical notion of completion, that some day our prayer will be answered.
Unity is a God-given gift to the church. It is also a call of Christians to live out this gift. Prayer for Christian unity is the source from which flows all human endeavor to manifest full visible unity. Many are the fruits of one hundred years of an octave of prayer for Christian unity. Many are also the barriers which still divide Christians and their churches. If we are not to lose heart, we must be steadfast in prayer so that we may seek the Lord and his will in all we do and all we are.
Lord of unity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we pray without ceasing that we may be one, as you are one. Father, hear us as we seek you. Christ, draw us to the unity which is your will for us. Spirit, may we never lose heart. Amen.