Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
On Pentecost Jesus founded one Church. The will of Jesus is that there be one flock and one shepherd and that this unity be a sign to the world that the Father sent him. (John 17: 20-21) Today there are many different Churches all claiming to be the church of Christ, or at least a church of Christ. This fragmentation is the scandal of Christianity. And the scandal increases when, as often happens, this division is accompanied by unblushing detestation of one Christian for another.
In the first millennium of Christianity there was unity. The second millennium was one of division. It began with the Orthodox breaking away from Rome. Then in the 16th century came the Protestant Reformation. It was the great hope of John Paul II that the third millennium would see the reunion of Christianity. Will this reunion happen? The prospects are not too good. But with God nothing is impossible.
The movement for reunion belongs not just to the hierarchy, or to a few idealistic souls, but to all Christians. We are all obligated to work for reunion because, in a way, we are all responsible. Not responsible, of course, for the original break, but responsible in as much as our lives have not witnessed to the truth of the Church, and thereby have erected another barrier between us and our separated brethren. Our inability to give a reasonable answer to sincere inquirers because we have not kept up with recent developments in the Church also presents another obstacle to them.
Reunion is necessary also for peace and stability in our families, in our nation and in the world. It may well be, unite or perish. As long as Christians dissipate their energies and time in fighting among themselves we cannot hope to be a match for the highly organized, deeply dedicated anti-Christian forces that are constantly gaining momentum. Divide and conquer is the strategy of the enemies of the Church. Well do they know that a house divided against it self cannot stand. (Matt. 12: 25)
But how will this reunion be accomplished? Many are disturbed because they think that reunion will mean giving up some essential truth, or taking the least common denominator of all these different churches to form a new united Church. Nothing could be further from the truth. To do so would be to destroy the Church of Christ.
On the other hand, there is no intention either of demanding absolute uniformity. The Church is one, but it is also Catholic, which means universal. Jesus commissioned his apostles to go into the whole world and make disciples of all nations. (Matt. 28:19) Since each nation has its own language and culture, it means that there will not be uniformity but unity in diversity. The Decree on Ecumenism is very clear on this point. “While preserving unity in essentials, let all members of the Church, according to the office entrusted to them, preserve a proper freedom in the various forms of spiritual life, and discipline, in the variety of liturgical rites, and even in the theological elaborations of revealed truth. In all things let charity prevail.” (Chapter 1, 4)
I wonder if those who demand uniformity in the Church are aware that there is no uniformity anywhere in creation. The Creator did not use a cookie cutter; everything and every one is unique and unrepeatable. There is no uniformity even in the Creator. The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit. In the Trinity there is perfect unity in diversity. Isn’t it strange that unity in diversity, which is the glory of God, can be the cause of division, fear and resentment for us?
The division of Christianity was the work of men, but reunion is the work of the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit demands our cooperation. What can we do? First of all we can pray for reunion. The Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan. 18-25) is a good example. We can also cultivate personal holiness and thereby give the witness of our joy to the truth of the Church. Joy is the most infallible sign of the awareness of the presence of God. We can read and meditate on the Scriptures for here we have a common ground for our discussions. We can be humble and tolerant of others. Faith is not the conclusion of a syllogism, or subject to proof. “Cradle Catholics,” should remember that without any request on their part and without any merit on their part they were baptized and given this great free gift of faith.
It will also help to keep in mind the important distinction between material heretics and formal heretics. We are not dealing with the original Reformers but with people born hundreds of years later who had absolutely nothing to do with the Reformation. Generally speaking, these people are in good faith. And if we engage them in honest and open dialogue we will discover that those things we hold in common far outweigh those that divide us. There is nothing like honest, open communication to dispel fears, prejudices and misunderstandings. The Declaration on Religious Freedom of the Second Vatican Council teaches that everyone is bound to follow his honest conscience and whoever does so will be saved.
Finally, and most
important of all, if we cannot bring about a union of faith, we can bring
about a union of love. And isn’t this what it is all about? Scripture
tells us that “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains
in God and God in him.” (1 John 4:16) “I give you a new commandment:
love one another. As I have loved you so you also should love one another.”
(John 13: 34) Love is the irrefutable, instantly verifiable sign of Christian
identity. (John 13: 35) This is how the first Christians were identified,
“See how they love one another.” (Tertullian, Apology,39.6)
By this criterion would we be recognized as Christians?
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