(This is Neil.) Like last year (and the years 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. The first Week of Prayer for Christian Unity took place in 1907, and Pope Benedict XV extended its observance to the entire Catholic Church in 1916. The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Church began observing the January dates in 1941. More of the history can be read here. This year’s reflections were prepared by representatives of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea and the National Council of Churches in Korea. They are based on Ezekiel’s second vision.
Cardinal Walter Kasper said before last year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, “This week of prayer has been very helpful because ecumenism is not our work, but is of the Holy Spirit, and without him it is impossible to have unity.” Thus, “the ecumenical movement is truly a movement of prayer.” Please try to share in this prayer, even if only for a very short period of time.
Christian communities face to face
with old and new divisions
“that they may become one in your hand” (Ezek 37)
One in your hand
The Lord is merciful and gracious, …abounding in steadfast love
Jealousy and quarrelling among you… you belong to Christ
That they may all be one… so that the world may believe
Christians are called to be instruments of God’s steadfast and reconciling love in a world marked by various kinds of separation and alienation. Baptized in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and professing faith in the crucified and risen Christ, we are a people who belong to Christ, a people sent forth to be Christ’s body in and for the world. Christ prayed for this for his disciples: may they be one, so that the world may believe.
Divisions between Christians on fundamental matters of faith and Christian discipleship seriously wound our ability to witness before the world. In Korea, as in many other nations, the Christian gospel was brought by conflicting voices, speaking a discordant proclamation of the Good News. There is a temptation to see current divisions, with their accompanying background of conflicts, as a natural legacy of our Christian history, rather than as an internal contradiction of the message that God has reconciled the world in Christ.
Ezekiel’s vision of two sticks, inscribed with the names of the divided kingdoms of ancient Israel, becoming one in God’s hand, is a powerful image of the power of God to bring about reconciliation, to do for a people entrenched in division what they cannot do for themselves. It is a highly evocative metaphor for divided Christians, prefiguring the source of reconciliation found at the heart of the Christian proclamation itself. On the two pieces of wood which form the cross of Christ, the Lord of history takes upon himself the wounds and divisions of humanity. In the totality of Jesus’ gift of himself on the cross, he holds together human sin and God’s redemptive steadfast love. To be a Christian is to be baptized into this death, through which the Lord, in his boundless mercy, etches the names of wounded humanity onto the wood of the cross, holding us to himself and restoring our relationship with God and with each other.
Christian unity is a communion grounded in our belonging to Christ, to God. In being converted ever more to Christ, we find ourselves being reconciled by the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer for Christian unity is an acknowledgement of our trust in God, an opening of ourselves fully to that Spirit. Linked to our other efforts for unity among Christians – dialogue, common witness and mission – prayer for unity is a privileged instrument through which the Holy Spirit is making that reconciliation in Christ visibly manifest in the world Christ came to save.
God of compassion, you have loved and forgiven us in Christ, and sought to reconcile the entire human race in that redeeming love. Look with favor upon us, who work and pray for the unity of divided Christian communities. Grant us the experience of being brothers and sisters in your love. May we be one, one in your hand. Amen.