Unity in the Church
The month of April is dedicated to devotion to the Holy Eucharist. Let us ask Mary, the Mother of the Eucharist, and St. Joseph to increase our Faith in the True Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist!
This week I share with you a reflection on the importance of Unity in the Church and a goal for all Christians. I encourage you to read it through a few times this week, and to pray for true unity! “The First Christians: Unity among Christians is a gift of God. Pray for it. The company of those who believed were of one heart and soul. (Acts 4:32) These words of the Acts of the Apostles are like a summary of the deep unity and fraternal love of the first Christians, which attracted so much attention from their follow citizens. The disciples bore testimony to the Resurrection not only with their words but also with their virtues. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles, 11) What stands out among them is the attitude - born of charity - of seeking harmony always. The unity of the Church from its very beginnings is an express wish of Christ. He speaks to us of one sole Pastor (cf. John 10:16), and He highlights the unity of the Kingdom which cannot be divided (cf. Matt. 12:25), of the building that has one single foundation. (cf. Matt. 16:18) This unity was always founded on the profession of one sole Faith, on the observance of a single form of worship and on submission to a sole hierarchical authority, constituted by Jesus Christ Himself. There is only one Church of Jesus Christ, Pope St. John Paul II taught in his catechesis in Spain, which is like a big tree into which we are all grafted. It’s a matter of a deep vital unity which is a gift from God. It is not merely, nor above all, an external unity; it is a mystery and a gift… This unity then is shown around him who in each diocese has been constituted as Shepherd, the Bishop. In the universal Church it is shown around the Pope, the Successor of Peter. (St. John Paul II, Homily, Madrid, 3 November 1982) The unity of Faith was, among the first Christians, the support of their fortitude and of the inner life which flowed over into the exterior. The same Christian life has been lived since then by very different peoples, each with their own specific individual, social, racial and linguistic characteristics. There, wherever there were Christians, they shared, experienced and transmitted one single doctrine with the same soul and the same heart and identical voice. (St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 1, 10, 2) The first Christians defended this unity of theirs to the point of facing persecution and even martyrdom. The Church has always encouraged her children to watch over their precious unity and pray for it. Our Lord prayed for it at the last Supper for the whole Church: that they all may be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us. (John 17:21) Unity is a very great benefit that we should implore every day because every kingdom divided against itself cannot last and every city or house divided against itself cannot stand. (Matt. 12:25) And St. John Chrysostom comments: a house or city once divided is destroyed quickly; and it is the same with regard to the Kingdom, which is the strongest entity that there is, since it is the union of their subjects that gives strength to kingdoms and to houses. (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. Matthew, 48) So there should be unity with the Pope, unity with the Bishops, unity with our brothers in the Faith - and with all men to attract them to Faith in Christ. What destroys fraternal unity: The one, says St. Thomas, is not opposed to the multitude, but to division; and neither does the multitude exclude unity: what it excludes is the division of each thing into its components. (St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I q30, a3) What divides is whatever separates from Christ: any sin, for example, although this separation is more perceptible in those faults of charity which isolate one from others, and the faults in obedience towards the Shepherds whom Christ has established to rule the Church. The variety of characters, races, customs, or ways of being is not opposed to unity. It is for this reason that the Church can be Catholic, universal and one and the same in all times and places. It is this interior unity, St. Paul VI said, which endows her with the surprising capacity of uniting men of the greatest diversity, respecting or, even more, giving a new value to their specific characteristics, providing they are positive, that is, truly human; which endows her with the capacity of being catholic, of being universal. (Paul VI, Address, 30 March 1965) The Apostles and their successors had to bear the pains provoked by those who spread errors and divisions. They speak of peace and they make war, regretted St. Irenaeus; they swallow the camel while they strain out the fly. The reforms they preach can never remedy the ills of disunity. (St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 4, 33, 7) The first Christians were convinced that if their Faith enjoyed good health, they had nothing to fear. (Tertullian, De Praescriptione Haereticorum) We should pray a lot for unity for the whole Church: that we all may be one, that we may be faithful to the Faith we have received, that we may obey promptly all the commands and indications of the Roman Pontiff and of the Bishops in communion with him. Unity is closely linked to personal ascetic struggle to be better, to be more united to Christ. There is very little we can do in our work for the whole Church… if we have not attained this close intimacy with Our Lord Jesus: if we are not really with Him and like Him sanctified in the Truth; if we do not preserve His Word in us trying to discover its hidden riches every day. (John Paul II, Message for Church Unity Octave, 23 January 1981)
The unity of the Church, whose vital principle is the Holy Spirit, has as its central point the Blessed Eucharist, which is the sign of unity and the bond of love. (St. Augustine, Commentary on St. John, 26) Removing discord and praying for unity is never more appropriately achieved than when the Body of Christ, which is the Church, offers the very Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament… (Divine Office, Second reading, St. Fulgentius)
Charity unites, pride separates. The fraternity of the first Christians. Avoid anything that could harm unity: St. Paul calls frequently for unity: to the Christians of Ephesus he writes: I beg you to lead a life worthy of the vocation to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, with forbearing for one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
He continues, referring to an ancient acclamation, possibly used in the early Liturgy during baptismal ceremonies, which highlights the unity of the Church as the fruit of the oneness of the Divine Essence and of the action of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, Who act in the Church and are the cause of its unity. (cf. The Navarre Bible, Captivity Epistles) There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one Faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, Who is above all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:1-6) St. Paul lists different virtues: humility, gentleness, longanimity, various manifestations of charity, which is the bond of unity in the Church. The temple of the King is not ruined, or cracked or divided: the cement of the living stones is charity. (St. Augustine, Commentary of Psalm 44) Charity unites, pride separates. The first Christians showed their love for the Church through a charity which overcame all barriers, whether social, economic, racial or cultural. Whoever possessed material goods shared them with those who had none (cf. Acts 4:32 ff.), and they all prayed for one another and encouraged each other to persevere in the Faith of Christ. One of the earliest Apologists, in the second century, described the behavior of the first Christians as follows: they love one another, they do not despise widows and they rescue orphans from those who treat them with violence; and he who has, gives unbegrudgingly to him who has not. (Aristides, Apology, XV, 5-7) However, the greatest charity was directed towards fortifying the brethren in the Faith. The Acts of the Martyrs recount in almost every page specific details of this concern for the fidelity of the others. Truly it was Love that enabled them to make their way through that corrupt pagan world. (J. Escriva, Friends of God, 172) It was love for the brethren in the Faith and love for the pagans. We also will bring our world to God if we can imitate the first Christians in our understanding and affection for everybody, even if at times our concern for and attention to others meet with no response. And we shall strengthen in the Faith any who are growing weak, with our example and our word and our dealings that are always friendly and open. A brother helped by a brother is like a strong city. (Prov. 18:19) Out of love for the Church, let us use all possible means so as not to damage, not even remotely, the unity of Christians: you should always avoid complaining, criticizing, gossiping… avoid absolutely anything that could bring discord among brothers. (J. Escriva, Furrow, 918) On the contrary, we should always foster everything that is an occasion for mutual understanding and concord. If on some occasion we are not able to praise, we should say nothing. (idem., The Way, 443) In the words of the Liturgy: May we overcome today all envy and dissension. (Divine Office, Morning Prayer, intercessions) In order to learn how to safeguard the unity of the Church let us have recourse to our Mother Mary. May she, the Mother of Love and Unity, bind us closely, in order that, like the first community born from the Cenacle, we may be ‘one heart and one soul.’ May she, the ‘Mother of Unity’, in whose womb the Son of God was united with humanity, inaugurating mystically the nuptial union of the Lord with all men, help us to be ‘one’ and to become instruments of unity, among Christians and among all men. (St. John Paul II, Homily, 24 March 1980)” (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez) Through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of the Church, St. Joseph, and St. Columbkill, may God bless us with the graces we each need to seek and practice unity within the Church! In Christ through Mary, Fr. Kasel