Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 18-25, 2018
Called to Love, Unity, and Mission Together
“All will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35)
Table of Contents
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an eight-day observance or “octave” of prayer. It has been this way from the beginnings of this international movement in 1908. Following are a set of eight daily scripture readings, a short commentary on the readings and a prayer. This set of materials was developed by the Sword of the Spirit for use within local communities and households during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity held around the world between January 18-25, 2018.
Included with the common readings and prayers are some additional questions to help individuals and families participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We would encourage families to take some time to engage the readings and prayers for each day and talk about them together, perhaps around the dinner table or in family worship time. Please feel free to adapt or change them as helpful. In particular the ‘questions for reflection’ will benefit from adaptations or expansion to best match the ecumenical reality in each local situation.
We have also included a short Lord’s Day prayer that can be inserted in the section following the Blessing of the Wine which can be used like the other seasonal variations in the Lord’s Day prayers.
Please use these materials in any way you find most helpful in your personal and family worship times during this season of prayer.
Note: The Psalms listed in this booklet follow the numbering of the Hebrew tradition.
Thursday January 18
Through love we embrace God’s word of life and truth together
Exodus 34:6-10 God renews his covenant of love and unity with those who obey his word.
Psalm 119:40-48 Love, revere, and speak God’s word of truth.
John 17:17-26 Consecrated in truth, love, and unity.
1 Peter 1:22-2:3 Purified by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren.
Ephesians 2:14-22 Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility and reconciled us to God in one body through the cross.
Commentary: What is the true source of unity that binds us together in a community of love, peace, and friendship with God and with one another? It is the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul the Apostle tells us that “Christ is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. and reconciled us both to God in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:14,16). Jesus died for our sins – including the sins of strife, enmity, and division – to set us free to live together in peace, love, and friendship with God and with one another.
Christian unity is a gift and grace of God which must be sought and lived out each day with faith, hope, and love. By ourselves we are weak and unable to maintain unity and peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our flesh is weak and we must cling to Christ and his word of truth and life. Satan, our enemy, also conspires to trip us up and sow seeds of discord, division, and strife. Only the love of Christ and the healing power of forgiveness can restore and preserve our love and unity together as his disciples and servants of his word of grace and salvation.
God has called us in the Sword of the Spirit to be a sign of the unity he desires for all Christians today. Let us not flag in zeal for growing in brotherly love, holiness of life, and unity together as a community of disciples on mission. And let us not tire in praying and fasting for the whole people of God for a full restoration of the unity, love, and mission he has entrusted to all who belong to Christ.
Questions for reflection:
Do I regularly pray with expectant faith and fast on behalf of the whole people of God for the unity Christ desires for all Christians?
Do I actively support and engage in common prayer, witness and mission with Christians from other traditions and denominations, as well as my own church?
Do I speak with respect, brotherly love, and ecumenical courtesy towards my brothers and sisters from other Christian traditions?
Prayer on behalf of the whole people of God: Have mercy, Lord our God, on the people called by your name. Rule us by your Word, sanctify us by your Spirit, unite us in your love, and work through us by your power. May the glory of Christ so shine upon us that the nations may come and behold his beauty, and may the knowledge of you fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
On the Path Toward Unity
Dr. Dan Keating
Do you ever wonder what’s going on in the search for Christian unity among the various churches these days? Is there anything happening? Is there good news around the corner? Or has the search for Christian unity stalled?
There is a lot happening, far too much to describe in a short write-up. Yes, there are some very good things going on. No, we are probably not on the verge of being fully united across our churches. But we live and walk in hope, trusting that the Lord Jesus has us all in hand, and confident that the Spirit is constantly at work.
Let me highlight a few of the initiatives between theologians of the churches that display real advances in working together.
The Joint Declaration on Justification, 2017. Many of us will recall the Joint Declaration between Catholics and Lutherans in 1999. This was a partial but genuine step in agreement on issues that divided the two churches in the 16th century. What most of us don’t know is that the World Methodist Council signed on to this agreement in 2006. And this year, 2017, the World Communion of Reformed Churches also signed on to the joint declaration. This is very noteworthy.
Representatives of the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Catholic church have been meeting together for many years. The discussions have not been easy. But last year, the two groups produced a common statement summing up their initial findings together. The subject was how the various churches related together in the first millennium, and what this can teach about seeking unity in this third millennium. It’s a very modest step, but every small step is appreciated.
I have been involved over the past four years in the Evangelical-Catholic National Dialogue in the United States to consider the issue of justification. The dialogue has been very rewarding and in fact a great deal of fun. As a member of the Catholic team I have greatly enjoyed getting to know the members of the Evangelical team. We have enjoyed rich fellowship and a clear sense of common life in Christ.
You might ask: “What do these dialogues and discussions accomplish? Do they ever lead anywhere?” Well, we shall see! But it’s important to realize that these kinds of discussions cannot on their own produce or create full unity. This must happen through the work of the Spirit in his own time and way.
The discussions between theologians can, however, remove (or lighten) obstacles and hindrances to greater unity. They move things out of the way, and open new avenues to walk down together. They also forge real friendships in Christ and reveal to us that we are all disciples, brothers and sisters in Christ. This is an enormously important thing. All this enables the Spirit to work more easily and accomplish his purposes.
The work we are about in the Sword of the Spirit is hugely important, even if it seems like a few small steps and modest gains. Together we put our hope and trust in God, that he will accomplish in his own time and his own way this great work of unity among his people. What a blessing to have even a small share in this great work!
Dr. Dan Keating is an elder in the Servants of the Word and teaches at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, USA.
Friday January 19
Through love we repent for the ways we have failed to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).
Genesis 4:1-16 Cain’s anger towards Abel leads to hatred, bloodshed, and family division
Psalm 51 Purge me, wash me, create in me a clean heart, O God
James 4:1-12 What causes division and strife among you?
John 17:6-19 Holy Father, may they be one as we are one… keep them from the evil one.
Commentary: The first sin of division recorded after the fall of Adam and Eve occurs between Cain and his brother Abel. Both brothers sought to please God by offering prayer and sacrifice to him. But Cain’s sacrifice was rejected because his heart was bitter towards his brother. God warned Cain, “Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:7).” Cain allowed his bitterness to go unchecked until he could no longer tolerate his brother’s presence. Cain’s hostility not only resulted in the murder of his brother, it also brought family disunity and strife for generations to come.
We are called to be peacemakers and reconcilers of brother to brother and sister to sister. We must not allow any wall of division or hostility to grow between us and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Satan sows seeds of mistrust, resentment, and strife. The Holy Spirit counters with the fruit of peace, joy, love, patience, kindness, and forbearance. We must guard our minds and hearts against every thought and temptation that would keep us from loving, serving, and living peaceably together. If we lose patience or fail to love one another, let us be
quick to forgive and be reconciled. And let us embrace the call to pray and fast earnestly for Christian unity for the whole people of God.
Questions for reflection:
Where possible, as far as it depends on you, do you strive to live peaceably with all your brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 12:18)?
If a brother or sister has a complaint or grievance against you, do you seek to resolve it quickly and be reconciled? And if you hold a grudge and sin against another, do you quickly repent and ask forgiveness?
Ask the Lord to transform and purify your mind and heart so you can grow in fervent love, compassion, and kindness towards all.
Pray earnestly on behalf of all the Christian people that all may embrace God’s call to peace, reconciliation, and unity together.
Prayer on behalf of the whole people of God: Heavenly Father, God of steadfast love and faithfulness, we confess our sin before you.
You have called us to be the pillar and bulwark of the truth, but we have forsaken your Word and exchanged the truth for a lie. Have mercy, Lord, and forgive our sin.
You have called us to be holy even as you are holy, but we have disobeyed your commandments and defiled your temple. Have mercy, Lord, and forgive our sin.
Lord, You have called us to love one another and to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, but we have broken your Son’s body with our enmity and strife. Have mercy, Lord, and forgive our sin.
Lord, You have called us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, but we have imitated the nations, losing our flavor and hiding our light. Have mercy, Lord, and forgive our sin.
Saturday, January 20
Through love we lay down our lives for all the brethren (1 John 3:16)
Leviticus 19:17-18 Bear no vengeance or grudge – love your neighbor as yourself
Psalm 15 The blameless shows respect and does no wrong to brother and neighbor
John 15:12-17 Love one another as I have loved you
1 John 3:11, 14-18 We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren
Commentary: Love of the brethren and living together in Christian community is a sheer gift and grace of God won for us by Christ who shed his blood for us on the cross. Without Christ we are weak, powerless, and subject to our own sinful inclinations, bad attitudes, and hurtful speech and behavior. Being united with Christ enables us to love and serve one another with compassion and meekness and to reject and put to death whatever is sinful and contrary to his law of love. Paul the Apostle writes, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Unless brotherly love, tenderhearted care and concern for one another is exercised daily, we can easily drift into putting our own interests and concerns ahead of our brother’s and sister’s welfare and concerns. The more we put on love the stronger we grow as a people who love no matter the circumstances and trials that may come our way. And when we sin and fail to love, the surest and quickest way to repair and heal a broken relationship is through repentance, asking and giving forgiveness, showing kindness, mercy, and forbearance towards one another.
Let us pray fervently that the love of Christ may grow in us and that we may excel in showing honor, fraternal love and care for all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Questions for reflection:
What did Jesus mean when he said to his disciples “love one another as have loved you” (John 15:12)? What did it personally cost Jesus to love his disciples? And what price does he expect his followers to pay in laying down their lives for one another? And what are the rewards of such priceless love?
Christian love entails full commitment, self-denial, sacrifice, and the willingness to lay down our lives for one another. Where is the Lord calling me to lay down my life for my brothers and sisters in Christ?
Christian love is other focused – it puts the interests of others and concern for their welfare first. Where do I need to die to self for the love of Christ to grow in me and turn me outward in serving others?
Where do Christians find the power to love as God loves? Christian love is rooted in God’s love and its source of power is the Holy Spirit who dwells in us (Romans 5:5).
Earnestly pray that God will renew his people through the purifying action of the Holy Spirit and make them one through the power of his love.
Prayer on behalf of the whole people of God: Lord Jesus, you said that everyone will know that we are your disciples if there is love among us. Strengthened by your grace, may we work tirelessly for the visible unity of your church, so that the Good News that we are called to proclaim will be seen in all our words and deeds. Amen.
Prayer for the Lord’s Day
This prayer may be used after the blessing of the Wine, like the other seasonal variations in the Lord’s Day Ceremony.
Leader: Let us thank Him this day especially for the unity we enjoy in the Body of Christ and for our call to Ecumenical Life in the Sword of the Spirit. May we all become perfectly one, so that the world may know and believe. Lord our God, You are bringing us into the fullness of unity through the work of Your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Group: Now we live with Him through the Holy Spirit, and we look for the day when we will dwell with Him in Your everlasting kingdom.
Back to My Roots
Rami Abou Haidar
I was baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church as an infant, following my family’s tradition. For several reasons though, (mainly because I was a student at a Catholic school), I got used to the Catholic liturgy. Growing up, I would eagerly participate in mass every Sunday and attend the church services during special seasons. Yet in all that time, I never participated in a Greek Orthodox liturgy.
Things changed when I joined community. Because ecumenism is one of the core pillars of our identity in the People of God in Lebanon, I was always hearing about the importance of being faithful to our churches and traditions. But even then, I had neither the courage nor the wisdom to go back to my origins, until one day, while leading a UCO household, one of our community coordinators challenged and encouraged me to discover my original church. His words – looking back now, I am certain were inspired by the Holy Spirit. They touched my heart and soul in a remarkable way, and enflamed my heart with a zeal and passion to discover what I had been missing for years.
So, the following Sunday, I started to attend Divine Liturgy at a nearby Greek Orthodox Church. Although everything seemed different, I knew I was home. At the beginning, I put a lot of effort into understanding the prayers, reading different books, and asking many brothers for guidance. Little by little, and with each Sunday, a love towards my Church grew. Each word in the liturgy began to touch my heart, mind and soul. I grew to discover the Lord’s work in a new, marvelous way!
Contemplating this experience, I can assert that it has led me to a deeper understanding of ecumenism. I see more clearly how our faithfulness to our individual churches and traditions fortifies our collective unity. I now recognize the work of the Holy Spirit to draw us together, discern the richness that lies both within my Church and within other Churches, and praise the Lord for his stunning work. Indeed, I now see better than ever how the Lord’s work in our community is a contribution to the life of all his Churches.
Rami Abou Haidar lives and serves as a leader in the People of God community in Beirut, Lebanon.
Sunday, January 21
Through love we freely choose to be servants of one another (Galatians 5:13)
Psalm 105:16-45 God worked through Joseph and Moses – his servants – to restore his people
Isaiah 52:1-4 Behold, my servant whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights
Matthew 20:25-28 Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many
Philippians 2:1-11 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others
Galatians 5:1, 13-15, 25-26 Through love be servants of one another and live in unity together
Commentary: What is the sure path and motivating force that leads to Christian unity and fruitful mission? On the eve of his sacrifice Jesus took a towel and basin of water and began to wash his disciple’s feet and then he gave them a new command: love one another as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).
The Lord Jesus said that he came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Jesus was King by right, but Servant by choice. Through meekness, humility, and compassionate love Jesus chose to lay down his life for us – to set us free to love and serve one another (Galatians 5:13). This is the one true path to reconciliation, peace, and unity with all who belong to Christ. And this is the driving force that led the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).
The distinctive hallmark and trait of every follower and disciple of Jesus Christ is love – a love that is wholly directed to the good of others – a love that is Christ-centered and ready to forgive and forget past injuries, to heal and restore rather than inflict revenge and injury. The cross of Jesus is the only way to pardon, reconciliation, and peace. Every other way will fail or fall short of the glory and victory which Jesus Christ has won for us through his death and resurrection. The love of Christ is not only a promise but a present gift and reality for all who are filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul the Apostle tells us that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:5).
If we embrace his love and truth and allow the Holy Spirit to purify and transform our hearts and minds, then we will find the inner freedom, joy, and strength we need to love without measure, to forgive without limit, and to serve without reward – save that of knowing we are serving the One who unites us in an unbreakable bond of peace and joy forever.
Questions for reflection:
Whose kingdom do you serve? And who sits on the throne of your heart? There is only one King and Ruler who is the Lord of All. The Father in heaven sent his one and only Son as the promised Messiah and Savior of the world. Does the Lord Jesus take first place and precedence in your life?
How did the Lord Jesus accomplish the mission he was sent to do? Jesus willingly obeyed and served his Father. Jesus told his disciples that he came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). He willingly laid down his life to set us free from slavery to sin and Satan and his kingdom of darkness.
Paul the Apostle tells us that Jesus “took the form of a servant” and “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). We are called to take on the same mind and attitude which was in Christ.
Christ has set us free to walk in love, humility, and Christian servanthood. Paul the Apostle writes, For you were called to freedom brethren, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another (Galatians 5:1,13). Are you willing to serve as Jesus served and to lay down your life for his sake and for the good of your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Prayer: Lord our God, you are the origin and goal of all living things. Forgive us when we only think of ourselves and are blinded by our own standards. Open our hearts and our eyes. Teach us to love as you love, serve as you serve, and forgive as you forgive. May we love and serve one another in the unity of God our Father, the only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit who is the Giver of Life.
Monday January 22
Through love we embrace all baptized Christians as our brothers and sisters in Christ (Ephesians 2:14,16)
Psalm 133 How good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell in unity
John 1:12-13 To all who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God
Luke 10:25-37 True love of neighbor – the Parable of the Good Samaritan
Ephesians 2:14-22 Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility and has reconciled us to God in one body through the cross
Commentary: The Lord wants our love to be as expansive and wide as his love is for each of us –individually and corporately as well – since he is our Head and we are members of his body whom he has redeemed and cleansed through the blood he shed for us on the cross. All who are baptized into Christ share the same call and mission to live as his disciples, to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to witness together that he is Lord of all and Savior of all who believe in him.
Today we witness an ecumenism of blood as Christians around the world face unprecedented persecution, violence and martyrdom – not because they are Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, or another denomination – but because they bear the name of Christ.
The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that all who are baptized into Christ are our brothers and sisters. This is the basis for our common witness and common mission to proclaim Jesus is Lord. And this is the reason we love and honor one another as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Questions for reflection:
Do you recognize all baptized Christians as your brothers and sisters in Christ? Ask the Lord Jesus to open your eyes and to widen your heart to love, serve, and respect all who bear the name of Christ.
Do you speak with respect and ecumenical courtesy towards Christians from other traditions and denominations?
Do your look for and support common ecumenical opportunities to pray together, read the Scriptures, and do common mission – especially to spread the Gospel and bring others to Christ?
Prayer: God our Father, in Jesus you gave us the one who died for all. He lived our life and died our death. You accepted his sacrifice and raised him to new life with you. Grant that we, who have died with him, may be made one by the Holy Spirit and live in the abundance of your divine presence now and forever. Amen.
Living Our Ecumenical Call
Mary Rose Jordan
I don’t like the smell of hard boiled eggs. I don’t think they would be the preferred lunch choice of very many middle school students. But, there I was, 12 years old, with my 2 hard-boiled eggs and lentil soup for lunch. I didn’t like Lent. I didn’t like having to get out my sulfuric smelling snack and endure the stares and turned up noses of my classmates. My saving grace though, was Elissa- my best friend and fellow hard-boiled egg unenthusiast. We were both growing up in Community together and although she was Baptist and I was Roman Catholic, our families had the same Lenten practices. Because we had each other, we embraced the 40 days of smelly lunches while we proudly told our classmates of the cool ‘gatherings’ our families attended and the different youth group we were in. My friendship with Elissa is one of the greatest treasures of my childhood.
Fast forward almost 20 years. I still am not a fan of hard boiled eggs. I do, however, realize the gift it was to have a friend who shared the same spiritual practices. It was an especially significant blessing considering our denominational differences. That friendship set a precedent in my life: I learned to be open to and appreciate friendships with people from other denominations, I learned that what I had in common with them outweighed the differences, I learned that other denominations had strengths that I could learn from, I learned that the ecumenical life we have in the Sword of the Spirit is unique and challenging and worth striving for.
In a time when our culture, even within Christianity, seems incredibly divided and focused on differences, I am overwhelmed with gratitude because I have grown up in an ecumenical environment. From a young age I have experienced the richness of ecumenism and have been blessed to have many relationships with brothers and sisters from other denominations that have played a significant role in my walk with Christ. The common way of life and shared spirituality I was a part of in my home community have given me a common witness along with my brothers and sisters, regardless of our denominational, racial or political backgrounds. Our ecumenical witness is amazing and fills my heart with joy at the goodness of our Lord and his provision for us. Our friendship with each other, in my eyes at least, is a small taste of heaven.
Mary Rose Jordan lives in the Community of the Risen Christ in Glasgow, Scotland. She is the executive director for The Lovely Commission, a website encouraging young women to follow the Lord.
Tuesday, January 23
Through love we pursue common witness and mission for the Lord together (Nehemiah 2:18)
Nehemiah 2:17-18 and 6:15-16 “Let us rise up and build.” So, they strengthened their hands for the good work.
Psalm 145:10-21 They shall speak the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power
Mark 16:15-20 They went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it
Acts 2:43-47 All who believed were together and the Lord added to their number day by day
Commentary: [excerpt from The Gift of Salvation: A Statement by Evangelicals and Catholics Together, January 1988] “What unites us is greater than what divides us. We believe that the Lord is calling for greater witness and mission together for the sake of the Gospel and Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations.
“We confess together one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; we confess Jesus Christ the Incarnate Son of God; we affirm the binding authority of Holy Scripture, God’s inspired Word; and we acknowledge the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds as faithful witnesses to that Word.
“The effectiveness of our witness for Christ depends upon the work of the Holy Spirit, who calls and empowers us to confess together the meaning of the salvation promised and accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Through prayer and study of Holy Scripture, and aided by the Church’s reflection on the sacred text from earliest times, we have found that, notwithstanding some persistent and serious differences, we can together bear witness to the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. To this saving gift we now testify, speaking not for, but from and to, our several communities.
“As believers we are sent into the world and commissioned to be bearers of the good news, to serve one another in love, to do good to all, and to evangelize everyone everywhere. It is our responsibility and firm resolve to bring to the whole world the tidings of God’s love and of the salvation accomplished in our crucified, risen, and returning Lord. Many are in grave peril of being eternally lost because they do not know the way to salvation.
“In obedience to the Great Commission of our Lord, we commit ourselves to evangelizing everyone. We must share the fullness of God’s saving truth with all, including members of our several communities. [Whatever Church tradition or denomination we come from we must speak the Gospel to each other’s tradition/denomination] Evangelicals must speak the Gospel to Catholics and Catholics to Evangelicals, always speaking the truth in love, so that “working hard to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace . . . the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God (Ephesians 4:3, 12-13).”
Questions for reflection:
What is the basis for common witness of the Gospel and mission together? Jesus said, “All will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In what ways can you and your community pray together and witness together with Christians from other traditions and denominations?
In what ways can you and your community share in the work of evangelizing and spreading the Gospel more widely with Christians from other traditions and denominations?
Prayer: God of love and mercy, look upon our willingness to serve you despite our spiritual poverty and limited abilities. Fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts to be filled with the joy of your presence. Fill our broken hearts with your healing love so that we may love as you have loved us. Grant us the gift of unity so that we may serve you together with joy and share the good news of your salvation with all. This we ask in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Wednesday, January 24
Through love we humbly and fervently pray for the Lord to reconcile and restore all his people in the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 2:14 and 4:3)
Genesis 45:4-15 Joseph forgives his brothers and restores them in a bond of peace and unity
Psalm 126 Those who sow in tears [of mourning and repentance] will reap with shouts of joy
Psalm 81 When God’s people cry out to him with repentant hearts he restores them
Ephesians 2:14 & 4:1-4 Reconciled and called to unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace
Matthew 26:31-35,40 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation and be scattered like sheep without a shepherd
Christ died for us on the cross to reconcile us with the Father and to break down the diving wall of hostility so that we may be joined together in unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:13-14). How does Christ want us to live together in unity? Unity is first and foremost a gift of the Holy Spirit, but like any gift, we need to learn how to grow in using it the way God intended. Paul lists a set of character traits (virtues that make us like Christ) that are essential for living together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Lowliness and meekness are companion virtues that curb pride and self-centeredness (preoccupation with self). Lowliness (also called humility) enables us to see ourselves truthfully as God sees us and to rely on God to place us wherever he wills and with whomever he wishes us to serve. Meekness tempers our emotions and drives so we can channel them for good and not for harm or wrongdoing.
Patience and forbearance enable us to persevere in doing good for others, especially when we meet difficulties and trials. They enable us to bear with failure and weaknesses and bear one another’s burdens. Love and its companion qualities (kindness and mercy) unite these virtues and direct them to the welfare and service of others.
We are called to live peaceably with one another. Peace is more than just the absence of conflict. It is a full and right relationship of love, mercy, and kindness towards one another made possible through the grace and work of the Holy Spirit who dwells with us. Let us pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to restore the whole people of God in the bond of peace and unity.
Questions for Reflection:
Do you strive to live peaceably, as far as it is possible and depends on you, with all your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Do you strive, with the grace and help of the Holy Spirit, to grow in lowliness (humility), meekness, patience, brotherly love, and charity?
Pray earnestly that your community and all Christian communities may grow in love, peace, and unity together.
Prayer on behalf of the whole people of God: Heavenly Father, grant us humility to hear your voice, to receive your call, and to cooperate with your work of restoring all your people to the unity you desire. Where division and our sin has left us with hearts of stone, may the fire of your Holy Spirit inflame our hearts and inspire us with the vision of being one in Christ, as he is one with you, so that the world may believe that you have sent him. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Good Soil and Open Doors
Latin America is not the most fertile soil to work for Christian unity. The historical background is grim and can be painful in many ways. Many good Christians have resentment against Christians of other traditions around them. There is, however, also much hope and opportunities where we see growth in ecumenism.
Starting in 2008, in the context of our Summer Mission Program, we began giving a talk on ecumenism to pass on more vision to the youth coming from communities that have only one Christian tradition. In 2012 this evolved into a four-session course that we would teach every summer to groups of young people gathered together from Central America. My main experience talking to young people from all-Catholic communities was finding a big lack of information but at the same time a significant desire to make a change in their hearts and work towards Christian unity.
Many of these young people had never heard about the painful stories of division in the Body of Christ. Neither had they ever heard about the important steps towards unity that many Christians have taken in the past 150 years. However, as we call them on to understand and embrace the reality of historical division and to be convicted about the importance of working for Christian unity, I was struck by the great desire and openness they have to foster Christian unity even in contexts that are hostile towards ecumenism. The mission and way of life of our communities provide an excellent context for our youth to promote Christian unity as we evangelize and work for the needy.
Another experience I’ve had in recent years is working alongside my father teaching the same ecumenism course in the Central Seminary in San José. We give future priests four lectures about unity and provide opportunities to spend time with leaders of other Christian traditions including an Anglican Bishop, an Orthodox priest and an Evangelical Pastor. This is a very significant experience for future Catholic priests in Costa Rica but also for the leaders of these other traditions as it opens friendly channels of dialogue and fellowship.
We can feel a limitation from our contexts and feel like we don’t have much to contribute to ecumenism. However, we can ask the Lord to open unexpected doors to us and to give us the grace to enter then so that we can keep building unity in the Body of Christ.
Miguel Vargas is a member of the Servants of the Word. He lives in “Arbol de Vida” community in San Jose, Costa Rica and serves in mission to young people throughout Central America.
Thursday January 25
Through love we call upon the Holy Spirit for renewed zeal and a fresh outpouring of grace for living together in unity and in pursuing common mission (Ephesians 4:15-16)
Haggai1:4-8 and 2:4-5 Take courage and rebuild my house – My Spirit will be with you”
Psalm 104:30-35 Send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth
Ephesians 4:1-7, 15-16 Called to one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism
John 17:20-26 Jesus prays for all Christians to be one as the Father and the Son are one
Commentary: [excerpt from Raniero Cantalemessa, Rome Ecumenical Gathering, May 2017] “The Apostle Paul tells us that love is the only ‘debt’ that we have toward others (Romans 13:8). We can love each other because what already unites us is infinitely more important than what divides us. What unites us is the same faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Lord Jesus, true God and true man; the shared hope of eternal life; the common commitment to evangelization; the shared love for the body of Christ, the Church.
“Another important thing also unites us: the shared suffering and shared martyrdom for Christ. In so many parts of the world, believers from different churches are sharing the same sufferings and enduring the same martyrdom for Christ. They are not being persecuted and killed because they are Catholic, or Anglicans, or Pentecostals or from some other denomination, but because they are ‘Christians.’ In the eyes of the world we are already one single group, and it is a shame if we are not also that in reality.
“The prophet Haggai has an oracle that seems to be written for us in this moment of history. The people of Israel had just returned from exile, but rather than rebuilding the house of God together, each of them was building and adorning their own houses. God thus sends his prophet with a message of reproof: ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? …Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may appear in my glory, says the Lord’ (Haggai1:4-8).
“We need to hear how this same reproof from God might be addressed to us and to repent. Those who listened to Peter’s discourse on the day of Pentecost ‘were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, … and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:37-38). A renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit will not be possible without a collective movement of repentance on the part of all Christians.
“After the people of Israel set about rebuilding the temple of God, the prophet Haggai was once again sent to the people, but this time with a message of encouragement and consolation: ‘Now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the LORD; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take
courage, all you people of the land, says the LORD; work, for I am with you. My Spirit abides among you; fear not’ (Haggai 2:4-5).
“That same word of consolation is now addressed to us Christians, not just as a biblical citation but as the living and efficacious word of God that is bringing about here and now what it signifies: ‘Take courage, all you people of God, and work because I am with you, says the Lord! My Spirit will be with you.’”
Questions for Reflection:
Do you believe in the power of repentance and forgiveness to bring healing, restoration, and blessing? Daniel faithfully prayed three times a day and he interceded on behalf of his people for 70 years during Israel’s exile (Daniel 9:2). God heard his prayers and many exiles returned to restore Jerusalem and worship in the Temple.
God is pouring out his Spirit today to heal, restore, and renew his people in love, unity, and power for new mission and evangelization. Will you commit to pray and fast like Daniel for God to renew the hearts of his people and to restore what has been lost?
Do you believe the Lord is opening new doors for mission and evangelization in your city, your country, and throughout the world? Pray for God to raise up new generations of people to spread the Gospel in the power of the Spirit and to make disciples in every city and nation on the face of the earth.
Do you believe that God is equipping you with spiritual power to be a bridge builder, peacemaker, and his ambassador on a mission of reconciliation and peace? With God all things are possible. Trust him, obey him, and let him use you and your community for the advancement of his kingdom. To him be the glory and the power and the kingdom now and forever.
Prayer: God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may you give to all Christians, and especially to those entrusted with leadership in your church, the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that with the eyes of our hearts we may see the hope to which you have called us: one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above and through all and in all. Amen.
Dr. John Yocum
Our ecumenical life in The Sword of The Spirit is grounded in hope, hope that in these days the Holy Spirit is at work to draw together all those who belong to Christ in closer bonds of fellowship, mutual service and common witness.
As a community of communities, we are not engaged in theological dialogue that attempts to overcome historic differences in doctrine. Nevertheless, as brothers and sisters who remain committed to our own Christian churches and to the teaching of those churches, our life and mission together is built on confidence that the Holy Spirit is at work among the Christian people to bring about a greater convergence in the truth in areas of historic disagreement.
Perhaps the chief example of this appeared in the 1970s, when theologians of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches made a common declaration on the Incarnation, after being divided for more than 1500 years over the precise way in which Jesus Christ is both God and man. As these theologians considered the doctrines of their respective churches, they came to recognize that, while they might still disagree on the best way to express the truth, they professed faith in the same Christ and could offer a common witness to Jesus Christ as true God and true man. Healing 1500 years of doctrinal division? That is nothing short of miraculous! Similar convergences can be seen on other issues among the Christian churches, such as the nature of salvation, the inspiration of the Scripture, and the sacraments.
May the Lord in his goodness grant us the grace to draw ever nearer one another as we draw nearer to Christ.
Dr. John Yocum is a Regional Elder in the Servants of the Word and teaches at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, USA