Friday, January 21, 2011

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Sharing Our Story, Breaking the Bread, Knowing Our Rising From the Dead

"We come to share our story, we come to break the bread, we come to know our rising from the dead." (Refrain from "Song of the Body of Christ", by David Haas)

This week the Church calls us to pray for Christian unity among the many different Christian denominations. Inherent in this is also a calling to acquire a particular focus and way of valuing the unity that we already share and to work toward resolving our differences with mutual respect. A number of Gospels from this week's liturgies are instructive with regard to the kind of attitude and heart that is needed in praying for and working toward Christian unity. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday's Gospels tell the same basic story of how the Pharisees and religious "professionals" of Jesus' day hounded his every step, calling into question his practices and those of his disciples. It seemed that Jesus overlooked certain traditions the religious leaders followed in responding to the needs of those around him (such as healing on the sabbath). Jesus, for his part, is incredulous, angry, and grieved in his heart at the stubborn refusal of the religious leaders to shift their focus from observing every jot and tittle of the law in order to respond to the invitation, call, and the demands of mercy and love that the law should be subservient to.

What's at issue in these Gospel stories is much more than a matter of focus. When we focus on something and place a great deal of emphasis on it, this really reveals what we value and hold dear. For the religious elite of Jesus' day, they valued their ability to strictly follow all the customs surrounding the law and the rewards, esteem, and prestige that followed. Jesus, on the other hand, valued persons and embraced the inexhaustible mystery of every one who crossed his path. He didn't judge by appearance nor dismiss someone because they were "untouchable", "unclean", or otherwise a "sinner." Rather, he was able to heal so profoundly in part because he saw and valued the depth dimension to everyone (the presence of God within them) and was able to draw this out so that God could become more fully a part of their lives.

To pray and strive for Christian unity requires a shift in focus and a reordering of our values. There is already so much that unites us (namely, Christ and the Holy Spirit) but this often gets lost through an obsessive focus on tradition. Rather than focus disproportionately on our respective traditions, we must, like Jesus, learn to value persons singularly and as members of Christ's Body (regardless of what denomination they adhere to). Ultimately, what serves as a basis for Christian unity is precisely what David Haas articulates in the above refrain from his song, "The Song of the Body of Christ": sharing our story, breaking the bread, and knowing our rising from the dead." Pat, TOR