Christian Unity. That the Church work for full visible unity that better manifests a community of love which reflects the Blessed Trinity.
Perhaps more than previous popes, Benedict XVI has made Christian unity a priority. Speaking of himself in his first papal message, he said, "Peter's current successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers….good intentions do not suffice for this. Concrete gestures that enter hearts and stir consciences are essential, inspiring in everyone that inner conversion that is the prerequisite for all ecumenical progress."
This month our Holy Father asks us to pray for Christian unity. He knows that our prayers will inspire in us and in others the "inner conversion" needed for true unity. Then our desire for unity will lead us to concrete actions that will make us one.
In his messages Pope Benedict XVI often quotes our Lord's beautiful prayer that reveals the love of the Trinity and God's desire that Christians be one: "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me" (John 17. 20-21).
In our time we experience division everywhere — between nations, institutions, and churches; also within churches and families, even between spouses. No wonder the world concludes that we Christians are just like everyone else. Where is the unity we claim to have in Christ? Where is the love that would make us one?
This month we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. From January 18-25, not just Catholics, but Christians throughout the world are praying for unity. Being able to unite in prayer is a good first step. In that hope, let's pray to be one.
Pray about one concrete way you can show your unity with a non-Catholic Christian.
1 Thessalonians 5: 17 — "Pray without ceasing." This Scripture is the theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Church in Africa. That the Church in Africa, preparing for a special Synod, may be an instrument of reconciliation and justice.
The African Church is preparing for its second Synod of Bishops. Its first Synod of Bishops took place in 1994. Pope Benedict XVI asks us to pray for the African Church because it faces a great many challenges and opportunities in the next couple of decades. The purpose of the Synod is to develop a pastoral plan for this emerging continent.
This isn't darkest Africa anymore. The number of missionaries (and students preparing for Christian service) from Africa now exceeds the number of missionaries to Africa. Since 1995 Africa's Catholic population has increased 30 percent, the number of parishes 20 percent, the number of priests and seminarians 30 percent, and the number of women religious 18 percent. The number of Church-run schools has increased more than 10 percent, and the number of students nearly 40 percent. About 13 million Africans now use the Internet.
Africa's social landscape features several modern problems, including ethnic and political conflicts, 20 million infected with AIDS/HIV, and growing urban poverty. According to planning documents, challenges within the Church include a disappointing number of permanent deacons, slow emergence of women to leadership roles, and increasing anxiety about clashes between Christianity and Islam.
Yet despite its difficulties, the African Church has done much to promote justice, mercy, and Christian solidarity. Refugees, displaced persons, the poor, and the sick are cared for. The Gospel is preached, converting hearts to Christ, to repentance and reconciliation, to peace and harmony. The Church has what Africa needs.
Let's pray that the African Church will continue to extend its love to those in need and promote the dignity and development of all persons. May the Holy Spirit inspire the bishops to find new ways to promote reconciliation and justice.
It's so easy to be aloof, to push human needs out of our awareness. How is your prayer for the African Church allowing you to be aware, to care, and to help?
Acts 8:26-39 — Philip and the Ethiopian: "Philip proclaimed Jesus to him."
Daily Offering Prayer
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.
Prayer of the Month
Lord of unity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we pray without ceasing that we may be one,
as you are one.
We give thanks for the abundant fruits
of this unceasing prayer for unity in Christ,
rising up from all the continents.
Father, hear us as we seek you.
Christ, draw us to the unity which is your will for us.
Holy Spirit, may we never lose heart. Amen
(Adapted from materials provided by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity)