The Catholic witness of prayer for Christian unity

By Chris Sparks 

I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:1-6).

We’re in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan. 18-25). And as my dad’s Protestant, and my mom’s Catholic, I know a whole lot about it.

Ours wasn’t perhaps a typical Catholic household, but Dad was very good about attending Mass with Mom and us kids, and permitting and encouraging us to be raised Catholic. Indeed, I only recently learned that Dad had apparently been invited to join the Knights of Columbus at each parish we attended over the years (and since Dad was a Coast Guard helicopter pilot, we attended a lot of different parishes!).

For me, then, Christian unity wasn’t just hypothetical, a goal that someday might happen by miracle. No, it was lived reality, Christians of different stripes sitting down to pray side by side, respecting each other’s particular convictions, but coming together for common worship every Sunday, saying grace before meals, and accommodating each other out of love. Christian unity was (and remains) a hallmark of my parents’ marriage, one of the most rock solid relationships I’ve ever been blessed to witness, and one in which religion wasn’t a bone of contention, but something peaceful — shared, even.

And so that witness of lived Christian unity meant that as I grew up, I knew I could choose which path to follow. I knew that the family all agreed on Jesus Christ. I knew that everyone agreed on the basics — the Bible; certain moral rules; etc. But I felt an obligation to do my own research, prayer, and thinking. Which should I be, Protestant or Catholic?

So I did my reading. I went online and found the places where the faith was attacked, reasoning that the best way to sort out what the weak points of Catholicism were was to hear what her enemies said, and then looked around to find the Church’s answers to those attacks.

Rock solid
Over a number of years, I discovered that the Catholic faith was rock solid, that the official teaching of the Church and her claims to be established by God were true, and that all the worst attacks of her enemies could all be answered satisfactorily. (I’ve shared the fruits of this quest in my book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.)

I’m still Catholic probably in large part because my Protestant dad was so at peace with Mom’s Catholicism, and with me asking questions, finding answers, and agreeing with the Catholic Church. I’m still Catholic in part because of my dad’s Christian witness, of his contribution to Christian unity, of his love for Mom and for us kids.

A faithful Protestant Christian, then, by living his faith, has helped make me and keep me Catholic. Christianity faithfully, generously lived has allowed me to be a practicing Catholic — far from perfect, of course, as anyone who knows me would attest, but practicing.

For others, it’s been the Catholic witness of prayer for Christian unity that has helped lead them to Rome. I’ve read a number of conversion stories over the years that recount how a turning point in their faith journey was the discovery that Roman Catholics faithfully mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity each year because, these converts say, they’d never heard anyone in their former denomination do likewise.

And Christian unity matters. In fact, prayer for unity amongst His followers was one of the last things Jesus did that long-ago night of the Last Supper, before He went to His Passion and death. 

As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth. 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, even as you loved me — Jn 17:18-22.

Through Jesus
The path to Christian unity, of course, must necessarily be the path of unity with the Father through Jesus Christ Himself, as St. Faustina indicates at different points in her Diary (for instance, Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1352). Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (see Jn 14:6). Moving closer to Him in any way in our personal lives and in our communities can only serve the cause of Christian unity. He blessed the peacemakers, after all, and summoned us all to share the Good News. He will surely send us many graces in the pursuit of Christian unity, of brethren reunited and returning to full communion with Rome.

As we observe the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, let us commit ourselves to include Christian unity as an intention in our daily Rosary for peace in the world and our daily Divine Mercy Chaplet. We can also pause during the 3 p.m. Hour of Great Mercy and ask God to help the whole Mystical Body of Christ to come together in the unity He desires, a unity of family, a peaceful household, loving one another as Jesus loves us all.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

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