January 22, 2017
by Larry Rice
Every January, on or around the third week, most Christian Churches observe a Week of Prayer for
Christian Unity. This observance is a popular expression of the ecumenical movement, the desire within
Christianity to heal the divisions that separate us from each other and move closer to the unity we believe Christ intends for his followers.
The words of Jesus in the Gospel (Jn 17:21) make it clear that our current situation—different churches
and denominations—is not what Jesus wanted for us. But centuries of difficult history have fragmented the Christian Church, and healing those wounds isn’t easy.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 820-821) states that, “the desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit.” According to the Catechism, in order to respond to that call to unity, seven things are necessary: The first is the permanent renewal of the Church itself, understood as a deeper fidelity to her vocation.
Second, there must be a conversion of heart among the faithful, since it is the unfaithfulness of the Church’s members itself that causes division in the first place. Third is shared prayer, since prayer changes our hearts and deepens our holiness. The fourth element needed is knowledge of each other, since ignorance leads to fear and separation. Ecumenical formation of the faithful and especially of priests is the fifth element to bring about Christian unity.
The final two elements are theological dialogue and collaboration in ministry, which help bridge our
differences globally and locally. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an annual reminder that we have lots of work to do to heal the divisions between churches. But to really affect that healing, we need to work on these tasks year-round.