And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are. (John 17:11)
When someone is approaching death, it’s wise to pay close attention to what they have to say. Their final words usually tell us much about what is important to them. They often reveal what that person valued the most and what they want us to learn from them. They may even become a legacy to help guide us.
Such were the last words of Pope John XXIII. As he lay dying, he whispered over and over, “May they be one” — words Jesus himself had prayed on the night before he died (John 17:11). If both Jesus and the pope prayed before their deaths for unity among believers, that should tell us something! It’s crucial that we be united not only with Jesus and his Father but also with one another. That’s how the world will know that Jesus really is alive. So how can we foster this unity in the face of so much painful division among Christians today?
Most importantly, we can learn to practice true ecumenism. Genuine ecumenism is not about convincing non-Catholics to become Catholic — or pretending that we’re not Catholic. Rather, it is a quest for mutual respect and understanding, a quest for members of different traditions and denominations to honor everything that unites them, even as they discuss respectfully the things that divide them. As Pope Benedict XVI explained, ecumenism starts with mutual love and respect:
Unity does not mean what could be called ecumenism of the return: that is, to deny and to reject one’s own faith history. Absolutely not! It does not mean uniformity in all expressions of theology and spirituality, in liturgical forms and in discipline. Unity in multiplicity, and multiplicity in unity. . . .
We can only obtain unity as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, spiritual ecumenism-prayer, conversion and the sanctification of life-constitutes the heart of the . . . ecumenical movement. . . .
I am convinced that if more and more people unite themselves interiorly to the Lord’s prayer “that all may be one,” then this prayer, made in the Name of Jesus, will not go unheard. (Ecumenical Meeting, 20th World Youth Day, August 19, 2005)
The Holy Father’s words are also echoed in these words from the Catechism:
Concern for achieving unity “involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike.”But we must realize “that this holy objective — the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ — transcends human powers and gifts.” That is why we place all our hope “in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 822)
May Jesus’ prayer also become ours as we pray that all Christians may be one, just as he and the Father are one.
“Jesus, heal all divisions and bring all believers together. We long for the day when God’s people are gathered around your table in complete unity and love!”
Maurice Blumberg is Director of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men Center (www.catholicmensresources.org).
[Many thanks to The Word Among Us (http://www.wau.org/) for allowing us to adapt material from daily meditations in their monthly devotional magazine. Used with permission.]
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
- 1. What importance do you place on Jesus’ prayer from John 17:11 (and John 17:20-21) that Christians would be “one”? How would you rate your response to Jesus’ prayer? Why?
- 2. The article states that “Genuine ecumenism is not about convincing non-Catholics to become Catholic-or pretending that we’re not Catholic. Rather, it is a quest for mutual respect and understanding, a quest for members of different traditions and denominations to honor everything that unites them, even as they discuss respectfully the things that divide them.” Do you agree with these words? Why or why not?
- 3. What are some of the obstacles that make it difficult for you to practice “genuine” ecumenism with non-Catholic Christians? What steps can you take to overcome some of them?
- 4. What is your understanding/reaction to the quotes from Pope Benedict XVI and the Catechism in the article?
- 5. If you are in a men’s group, At the end of your meeting pray for one another that each of you would receive grace to reach out in humility to non-Catholic brothers, whom you know, in the spirit of “true” and “genuine” ecumenism. Use the prayer at the end of this article as the starting point.