The Facts of Life Series: The Future and Christendom
“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. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”— John 17:20-23
Jesus prayed that all who believe in Him would be “one” just as He is “one” with the Father. Jesus, the Incarnation, prayed for this for us and commanded this of us. He prayed about “oneness” even for us now, just as He did for His apostles and every other eventual believer. And He did this just before He began His passion. For the Son of God knew this was crucial. And, He knew this would be an enduring challenge.
But, His hope, His expectation is that all who believe in Him would be one. One just as He and the Father are one. He says this explicitly three times in these brief verses. And it is His last and summative instruction before going to the Garden of Gethsemane. His last explicit directive. His parting command. His final exhortation. His wholehearted hope for all His believers across time and space, right down to our modern moment. And, this is no small thing.
So, what does being “one” really mean? Well, it is a comprehensive “oneness”—a complete unity reaching out to every disciple and to every facet and feature of our being, our individual personality, our moral rectitude, our philosophical certainty. It is a relational unity, an intellectual unity, a spiritual and a practical unity. Yet it is more than just a comprehensive commonality between each of us and God.
For each of us must not just acknowledge this unity as a dictum, a command or even an ideal. It is to be our goal, a foundational distinctive of our lifestyle. A destination that compels our will, that enlightens our mind, that touches our hearts, that informs our practical living moment-by-moment. It is something we must seek and yet abide in, a kind of everyday epiphanic reality with Him that enlightens us and guides us, informs us and corrects us, motivates us and matures us.
Such a unity entails a unity of conformity, a conformity to certainty, the certainty of truth. Our conformity is driven by the truths of our Faith, its philosophy and its epistemology, its morality and its beauty, its practicality and its spirituality. Yet, this is not conformity, as we moderns may think. For this kind of salutary conformity is part of our redemptive and sanctification process, our growth as Jesus’ disciples, our maturity into our fuller reality as the true sons and daughters of God. This unitive process is how we expand our holiness and approach the perfection we are called to aspire to and become in ever greater degree.
For we are called to “be perfect, just as our Father in heaven is perfect.” And, real and true perfection is a most comprehensive reality. A reality that transcends, yet entails morality. For the fullness of perfection includes truth as much as it does morality. It includes beauty and spirituality. It includes the full reality of love.
Sacrificial love and generous love. Patient love and demanding love. Attitudinal and dispositional love. Brotherly love, romantic love, intimate love. Love for God. Love for our spouses, our children, our families. Love for our neighbors, our friends, our enemies in a manner just as we love ourselves, just as God loves us. Love for the poor, the suffering, the neglected, the oppressed, as well as the prosperous, the fortunate, the gifted, the prominent.
For as we strive for such relational unity so comprehensively defined, we are to do so with our fellow disciples too. This means we are to seek such unity, not merely on some broad general principles, but in detail right down into the subtleties and intricacies of life and living. We are to be truly “one” with each other. And, not just in a general and generic sense, but in the nuances and idiosyncrasies of our individuality.
But, in our modern times, could the meaning of being “one, as we are one” change? From the description Jesus gives us, it would not. For He wants us to be one with each other, just like the divine oneness He has with the Father. He wants us to be one with Him. And He wants us to be one with each other. One in mind. One in heart. One in spirit.
Yet, despite His prayer and exhortation, despite His hope and command, we are far from one as a church and as a body of believers, in our contemporary world. And, as our human nature does so smoothly when it meets a compelling truth, we glide easily into altering the truth of this command to mean something God never intended. That is why Jesus prayed for us as He did.
Down through the history of the Faith, we have continually grappled with being “one” as a body of believers, sometimes successfully, though often reluctantly or gradually. Heresies and corruption, schisms and conflicts of governance have plagued the Church. Some of our failures were eventually confronted and surmounted, but others still persist. Just think about the Reformation and its persistent reality and many egregious effects over the last five hundred years. This misguided rebellion has led to exponential fragmentation of our unity and the loss of the sum and substance of the truth of the Faith for its adherents.
Think about the rise of Modernity and its many effects on our culture and its insidious influential incursions so challenging to our Faith and so pervasive, even within the Church now. The very idea of objective truth and morality, the certainty of life’s meaning and its many metaphysical realities, the nature of humanity and the differentiation and complementarity of each sex are all casualties of Modernity’s inevitable existential effects leaving so many with the absurdity of a tacit nihilistic philosophy and worldview.
Protestantism and Modernity were and are severe blows against the unity we were charged to strive for and to ensure. Yet, the modern Church has surrendered its responsibility to maintain and promote unity and settled for a broad and superficial commonality that belies the rigor and relational bond of the oneness Jesus describes. Since the Sixteenth Century, as a body of believers and as an institution, we have denied or reduced the content of the truth inherent in this unity.
We have distorted the inherent and true unity of this oneness by overlooking its intended imperative, its proper prioritization and its essential harmony and we have opted for a superficial tolerance and a polite posture to these errors and heresies. We have sought a unity that bears no clear resemblance to the unity Jesus described with such succinct and compelling clarity. For He described the essence of the Kingdom of God.
He described Christendom. He described reality as it should be and as it was intended. And He charged us, His disciples, to bring about this reality. He promised to help us, to encourage us, to challenge us and to be with us every step of the way. For His Christendom is a unity. A unity of truth and love so compelling it would change the hearts and minds of all humanity individually and collectively. An intimate personal unity with Him and with all of God’s other sons and daughters.
So, we must cast off our superficial sense of unity, our tepid tolerance and our comfortable compromises. We must recover the real meaning of truth and its actual content and the deep reality of real love, a love that is more than mere emotion or polite affection. We must be willing to speak and stand for the truth of our Faith, even if that creates conflict, alienation, rejection. We must be willing to love others enough to share the truths of our Faith, even when that is difficult. And, we must be willing to do all this collectively as the Church, the one Church, the true Church, the only Church, whose very founder was God Himself, the Messiah of mankind, the Word, who came and dwelt among us.
Then, and only then, will we recover the pervasive and personal experience of the Christendom of ages past. Then, and only then, will we shoulder the burdens and receive the blessings of building anew the Christendom for our modern age.
Then, and only then, will we know God more intimately and live within the greater goodness of His Kingdom in the world He came to save.
We also recommend Mr. Cronin’s latest book, The World According to God: The Whole Truth About Life and Living. It is available from your favorite bookstore and through Sophia Institute Press.