'That We May All Be One' - Week of Prayer for Christian Unity reflection
Daniel Ang, Co-ordinator of Pastoral Services with the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta's Institute For Mission, reflects on Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (16-23 May). Daniel's reflection was used by Dean & Administrator of St Patrick's Cathedral Fr Wim Hoekstra, at a Ecumenical commemoration service held at the cathedral on Monday 17 May.
It is a privilege to be here tonight to share a reflection in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
We heard in tonight’s Gospel of the Risen Jesus as he appears to the disciples. We first heard of Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James discovering a silent, empty tomb. Then we hear of the disciples on the road to Emmaus as they encounter the risen Jesus in their midst. Finally, Jesus appears to the disciples who are gathered at Jerusalem, huddled in uncertainty in the aftermath of the crucifixion. At first, the disciples are startled, even terrified, but then come to be filled with awe and joy as they recognise it is Jesus who stands among them, their minds and hearts newly open to the gift of God’s presence.
In all of these accounts, we notice that the disciples are led from an experience of uncertainty, a sense of absence, and even discouragement to a life-giving experience of joy, recognition and presence. Jesus is truly Risen; death and limitation have given way to an unimagined possibility, a life filled with eternal significance.
In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we are invited into that same transformative journey, from a sense of distance and limitation to an experience of shared life, a deeper recognition of one another and our living faith in Christ. We come to recognise that communion with one another is not a distant and future dream, but a real and living bond of faith that truly exists between us now, however imperfect, across our diverse Christian traditions.
We recognise the Holy Spirit at work in our search for unity and recognise the presence of the risen Christ who draws us into a sense of the abundant, even the unforeseen. A sense of expectation and hope emerges when we can honour what we share in essence while remaining open to the invitation of our differences. Our very act of prayer together tonight, that we ‘may all be one’ (John 17:21), affirms both that we belong to one another and that we are incomplete without the gift that ‘the other’ can offer to our lives. We know our spiritual unity is real though not fully realised, that communion is at once our gift and our project.
When we listen to the depths of the Gospel we know that our Christian unity is not about coming across the right process or strategy; nor is it about taking on a technical, problem-solving mindset. The search for communion between our Churches is first, and finally, a communion between persons, and so ecumenical dialogue must begin with the ongoing conversion of our own hearts. We must come alive to God within our own life before we can recognise that same divine imprint impressed upon the experience and faith of another.
Perhaps this is the challenge for the whole company of God’s people, to school ourselves in holiness and understanding, to commit ourselves to the gift of prayer, to read and study attentively, and to search for wisdom. Because when we turn more fully towards God by our prayer and reflection, we will find ourselves led to turn towards one another with ever more openness and receptivity. When we are sensitive to God, we become sensitive to others.
It is also true that when we allow the Spirit to touch even the smallest corners of our being, all the places where there are fears, defences, envy and concerns, we open ourselves to new ways of being with one another. We throw away the crutch of defining ourselves against the other and begin to recognise our shared, fragile human experience as the intimate bond that God sets before us. When we come home to our own vulnerabilities, when we share our incompleteness, our longing, our deepest desires, and the questions we bear within ourselves, we open the deep ground of intimacy. We take the first step towards the deep communion that God wills.
Our ecumenical friendship is the greatest gift we can give to each other, and our Christian unity is the greatest gift we can offer the world. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are ‘on our way’ in the presence of Christ. We are pilgrims, sharers in a message and sharers in the story that overcomes that other story of division and separation. May we follow Christ with courage, commitment and hope, through that paschal journey that brings us from fear to love, from separation to communion, from power to vulnerability, from limitation to ever new possibility in his name. Indeed, as Jesus has shown us, opening ourselves to God and each other is what makes us truly come alive.
Daniel Ang is the Coordinator of Pastoral Services for the Institute for Mission (the Diocese of Parramatta's Centre for Adult Faith Formation). Daniel was the founding editor of Terra Spiritus, a journal of Christian spirituality published by the Daughters of St Paul in Australia. He is currently completing a Master of Divinity at the Catholic Institute of Sydney and has a particular interest in the writings of Thomas Merton and Henri de Lubac. He is a parishioner at St Bernadette’s Catholic Parish in Castle Hill.
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