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).
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
“Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time.” 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: “That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, . . . so that the world may know that you have sent me.” The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 820).
It was not too long ago when Protestants thought Catholics were going to Hell, and Catholics thought Protestants were going to Hell. A time when many Protestants didn’t think Catholics were even Christians. Fortunately, times have changed and relations between Catholics and Protestants have greatly improved, especially since Vatican II, when the fathers of the Church made a real effort to reach out to our “separated brethren” in a spirit of humility and reconciliation. Now there is a fairly broad recognition among Christian denominations that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
However, misunderstandings still exist as to what non-Catholics think Catholics believe. In my previous article, I related how a Pentecostal pastor I met believed Catholics worshipped Mary, I have also spoken with Protestants who believe Catholics think they are saved by works, that they worship statues, and that purgatory is a place where unsaved Catholics go to get saved. Many non-Catholics still don’t understand the Mass, the Eucharist and other Sacraments, communion of saints, and other Catholic teachings.
So how do we, as Catholic men, “do” ecumenism? If a non-Catholic Christian family invited us for dinner, we wouldn’t start our conversation by bringing up all our differences with the host. If we don’t know where someone is in his walk with the Lord, it’s probably a good idea to stay away initially from sensitive topics. Instead, we can focus on what we do have in common: As baptized Christians, we are already united in our faith in Christ, “given to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). The person we are talking to is a brother in Christ, our “blood” relative, and that’s something we can both rejoice in!
Once we’ve gotten to know them better, we will naturally want to share something about our faith with our brothers (and sisters) — and what could be more natural than prayer? No matter what our denomination, we know that when two or more are praying in his name, Jesus is with us. Praying alongside those of other traditions will open our hearts to be more loving toward them. It will help us to repent of any judgmental attitudes we may have picked up about them. And it will show us how much they have to offer-for if we really are one body, then we need each other. A wise pastor once said regarding ecumenism, “None of us has it all together, but together we have it all.” Just as our “separated brethren” can learn form us, so we can learn from them as much as they need us!
When Jesus prayed that we become one, so that “the world may believe that you sent me,” he was asking for a kind of unity among Christians that is unfamiliar in the society we live in. He wanted the people to be able to look at us and say, “This unity is different than the world’s unity! They have something I’ve never seen before, but I want it.”
Jesus knew that others would be convinced not by what Christians look like, or even just the words we use, but by the love and compassion we are able to show to one another. This love comes from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us, and it gives the power to all Christians in the Body of Christ to become living examples of unity and brotherhood.
“Lord, send out your Spirit, and give all Christians the strength and wisdom to reach out to one another. Heal the wounds of your body, and make it whole!”
Maurice Blumberg is Director of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men Center.
[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 has been your experience in sharing your faith with non-Catholic Christians? Did it bring you closer or farther apart as brothers in Christ?
- 2. How would you contrast Christian unity and love with the world’s definition of unity and love?
- 3. What steps can you take, as individuals or as a group, to replace misunderstanding and division between Catholics and Protestants with understanding and unity?
- 4. Why is praying with Christians from other denominations a good first step in ecumenism? Have you ever done it, and if so, what was your experience?
- 5. If you are in a men’s group, take some time at the end of your meeting to write down the names of two men of different denomination for whom you can pray for a closer unity with you and other Catholics. Then pray for one another for Godly wisdom on how to reach out to them. Use the prayer at the end of this article as the starting point.