By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published January 26, 2017 | En Español
Some of us are old enough to remember when we Catholics were regularly instructed not to attend the funerals or weddings of our Protestant neighbors, relatives or friends. It was an awkward time to be sure because the human heart seeks to be united to loved ones in such moments of great sorrow and deep joy. I believe that it is the grace of the Holy Spirit that urges us to seek some expression of ecclesial union at those moments.
Fortunately those prohibitions are not so restrictive today, although the work of Christian unity is far from an accomplished reality. There are still significant barriers to full union, and some of those obstacles have grown considerably more difficult to navigate recently. Some people might scorn these barriers as simply “man-made rules” or just foolish traditions. But what separates us is real nonetheless and makes the work of ecumenism that much more complex and difficult.
Still Christian unity is a work in progress, and the prayer of Christ remains in full force: “ … so that they may all be one … ” (John 17:21).
In spite of the differences that separate the Christian churches, we must make the Archangel Gabriel’s words to the then bewildered and youthful Mary our own: “for nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:37). In the end, Christian unity must be the work of God and not simply a vague but lofty aspiration of men and women of good will.
Many examples of Christian churches working together exist today—shared efforts to feed, clothe and house the poor and neglected bring Christians together in many communities across this local Church. I thank all of those who make such endeavors possible and deeply satisfying for everyone.
There are times throughout the calendar year when Christians gather jointly to observe a special moment of faith, such as an ecumenical Thanksgiving Day prayer service or a common Good Friday ritual that unites Christians in recalling the Passion and death of the Lord. Some churches have longstanding covenant agreements that draw them together to address social injustices. Each of these opportunities reminds us all of the things that we hold in common and the valuable path toward greater unity.
Beginning in 1908, Christians have observed an annual time to pray for the ultimate gift of full unity. The observance began in New York with Episcopalians and Catholics and has since developed into a worldwide octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. The octave concludes with the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on Jan. 25. This year, I shared in the ecumenical prayer service at Emory University on Jan. 24 and joined my voice with those Christians of other denominations asking the Lord to heal our divisions and in His grace and time to unite us more perfectly in Christ Jesus.
I hope that many such opportunities for ecumenical prayer and fellowship will connect the communities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta with our Christian neighbors and friends. We have recently made great progress in learning how to care for one another with greater mutual respect and affection.
The theme of this year’s Octave for Christian Unity is “Reconciliation: The Love of Christ Compels Us” (from 2 Corinthians 5:14-20). The reconciliation for which we pray this year is certainly directed toward a spirit of Christian unity that has been damaged by too many centuries of mistrust, hostility and suspicion. Yet our prayer for reconciliation must also include a healing of the infighting and harshness that exists within our own individual ecclesial communities and faith traditions. May the Holy Spirit heal all differences within Christian hearts so that Christ’s mission of unity will be achieved both within and among those faith families that delight to call Him their Lord and Savior and themselves Christians.