This Holy Week, I’m Praying For Christian Unity. And I Need Your Help.

My good friend Alan Jacobs has been a bit miffed lately at all the grief I give to Protestants, and I have to admit that, even though I believe talking about our differences is important, he has a point. It’s a lot easier to sin by lack of charity than by an excess of it.

So I’ve decided to spend this Holy Week (it’s already Tuesday!) praying for Christian unity. And I’ll try to write nice things about our separated brethren during this week (note: this morning’s post was written much earlier, but it’s fitting for the occasion). And I will read John Paul II’s momentous encyclical on unity, Ut Unum Sint.

If you would like to suggest prayers and post topics for this week of Christian unity, please have at it in the comments.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

John 17:20-23



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  • Jeff

    I think one of the most powerful aspects of Christian unity is its diversity. Or as de Lubac might have put it, “catholicity is primarily diversity rendered harmonious.” There was a good post in First Things not too long ago about this diversity as well. And I think this goes well beyond racial and socioeconomic diversity – it can extend to practices (various rites), disciplines, devotions, and some doctrine (not dogma). The church was never, and should never be, a homogeneous group of like-minded people.

    As a recent re-vert to the Catholic faith, this was one of the most appealing aspects of the Catholic church to me. Not that diversity is a goal in and of itself, but isn’t this kind of diversity what the church should be composed of? A unity that results in diversity is something I can, and will, pray for with you.

    • I’m bothered by the naked worship of diversity at the expense of truth.

      • Jeff

        Thanks for the reply, but perhaps you misunderstood me. I’m not arguing for a “worship of diversity”. Diversity that forsakes truth is not “diversity rendered harmonious”. Diversity is not an end in itself (it is not something to be strived for), but it is something that is a natural result (and perhaps a sign) of unity in Truth.

    • Yep.

      In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnia caritas.

  • I still appreciate the honest approach of St. Augustine. Worship the Truth, who Is Jesus Christ, an dunity will be revealed.

  • mochalite

    I’ve been mulling this over. I’d love to say,“Yay, unity!”, but honestly, I think that the unity Jesus spoke of in John 17 is beyond us this side of heaven. That sounds dismissively easy, like I’m not willing to try; but truly, each group of believers reads, “that they may all be one” and adds, “and we’re the folks who properly define what that (being one) looks like!” [that wincingly funny decision tree cartoon]

    Example I’ve used before: If I, a believer, attend a Mass, will the Catholic Church,
    for the sake of unity, accept my personal profession of faith as sufficient grounds on which to share the sacrament of communion? Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I think you’d say that what I call communion isn’t even the same thing as what you call the Eucharist. A sacrament that I read in Scripture as being open to anyone who judges his own heart before God is not that to Catholics. So, while there can be mutual respect for our faith, and neither of us would say that the other isn’t a Christian, how could we possibly get to unity on this issue? Can you participate in communion outside of the Catholic definition? Can I participate as a fellow believer if I don’t accept that definition?

    This is reinforced when you use the term “our separated brethren.” There, I hear you saying that the Catholic Church is THE church, THE unity, to which all the separated [Protestants] should return. I certainly agree on a cosmic scale
    … “one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father
    of us all,” but here on earth, Sunday is still going to be PLU (people like us) Day as we congregate to worship with folks who read the Bible the way we do.

    Jesus prayed,”I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me
    through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.” I and, I think, other Protestants hear Him praying for a unity that transcends the forms we live in as physical beings (as His with the Father did when He was a physical being) …a “confirmation devoutly to be wished,” a unity that will be realized when all Christians are received as glorified beings into His holy presence. Catholics (again, forgive me if I’m wrong!) emphasize the “through their [the Apostles’] word,” and have thus defined unity as possible only within the Catholic Church. How do we cross the divide that says you will be received into God’s presence through the Catholic Church, while I will not be because I’m not walking that bridge?

    I think, then, that we can and should be in unity on who God is, who Jesus is,
    what He did, and what He is doing. Everything else? I think mutual respect,
    admiration, and enjoyment are as close to unity as we’re going to get. I pray for those, both in my own part of Christendom and in Christendom as a whole, and for the complete unity that is promised to us when we shed all the rest of this. “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

    • Thanks for your comment. Damn, that’s some cold water!

      Everything you say makes perfect sense, but I would say a few things:

      First, that just because something seems impossible, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

      Second, that what you say is very compelling–but I would say that it discounts the possibility of grace. For the Christian, the most unrealistic stance is to refuse to expect miracles.

      • mochalite

        Yeah, it felt cold to me too, which is not a feeling I like, but I couldn’t seem to find my way around it. 🙁 Thanks for reminding me that God isn’t limited by my understanding!

        “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Eph. 3:20-21

  • Antiphon411

    Here’s a prayer for Christian unity from the Great Intercessions of the Good Friday liturgy according to the 1962 Missal:

    “Let us pray also for heretics and schismatics: that our Lord God would rescue them from all their errors, and recall them to their holy Mother, the Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    Almighty and everlasting God, Who savest all and wouldst that none should perish: turn Thy gaze to souls deceived and led astray by the devil; may they cast off the evil of their heresy and in true repentance of their errors return to the unity of Thy truth.”

    Again I might direct the author ‘s attention to Pius XI’s encyclical on ecumenism Mortalium animos, wherein the pope makes it clear that Our Lord’s prayer that they all be one does not await fulfillment, but is already fulfilled in the one holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    • I might direct the author’s attention to John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism Ut Unum Sint.

      • Antiphon411

        I was going to say: “You’re on: I’ll read yours and you read mine,” but on second thought…Now I knew JPII’s would be one of those long for-they-think-that-by-saying-a-great-deal-they-will-be-heard encyclicals, but at 27,000ish words (compared to Pius XI’s crisp and clear 4500), I’ve decided that even with Good Friday looming that would be too great a mortification for me to take on.

        Why is it that JPII wrote such long encyclicals? They remind me–perhaps uncharitably–of the magician’s patter: just keep talking so nobody notices the sleight-of-hand. The pre-conciliar popes got to the point. JPII just multiplied words.

        The popes of yesteryear were concerned to present doctrine clearly, JPII revels (wallows?) in complexity. Compare the new Catechism of the Catholic Church to the Baltimore Catechism–or the Roman Catechism (Tridentine). Also compare “The Church of Jesus Christ *is* the Catholic Church” to “The Church of Jesus Christ *subsists* in the Catholic Church, by which we mean blah blah blah blah blah blah etc. etc. etc.”

  • Beth Turner

    I missed this one, but my suggestion would be to ask your convert-friends what their biggest issues were. Mine, in order, were:
    1) The seeming opposition between faith and works
    2) Marian devotion
    3) Papal authority
    I find similar things among the (Evangelical Christian) friends (from a variety of denominations, but mostly Calvinist-leaning) I speak with about it now.

    Also, Called to Communion (a blog of former Calvinists who have become Catholic trying to engage in dialogue with other Calvinists) has written a couple of 7-day series of posts regarding Christian Unity, and I found this years’ series by Tom Brown especially helpful!