Thursday, October 28, 2021

That they may be one

The table was laden with bean salad and brownies. Ever-present mugs of coffee were prepared, lifted, sipped. My elderly neighbors and I sat together, and my toddler scrambled from lap to lap and across the rug. As we talked and laughed together, I realized what day it was: October 31st, 2017. Across the world on that day, people were celebrating the five hundred-year-anniversary of the Protestant Reformation; a movement which, ultimately, furthered division within Christianity. And on this day, this anniversary of an attempted-reform-turned-revolt, we gathered at table together: individuals from the Assembly of God, Disciples of Christ, Salvation Army, and Catholic church. Together, we shared in the joy of God’s blessings as we cemented bonds of community and love. We enjoyed the food and drink that we each offered freely.

 A simple afternoon spent with friends; a small step towards greater unity within the Body of Christ.

“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.” (Jn 17: 20-23)

 That they may all be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me...

Yet, though this proclamation of the Word-made-flesh has echoed in our churches and prayers throughout the centuries, we find ourselves falling short of it. The revolts of 16th century Europe were not isolated events; the frustration with abuses and corruption had been festering, the division had been growing. It was a lengthy process that led to greater reform in the Catholic Church (notably, with the clarifications and reforms of the Council of Trent, held from 1545-1563) but not before countless men and women had fallen away into fractured groups.

 That they may be one…

Is this fracturing and separation what Christ desires? Is it what he so earnestly prayed for during the first hours of his Passion? Is it something we should celebrate and rejoice in? I find myself thinking of the deep ache that strikes when people step across the East-West schism of 1054 into Orthodoxy, or into a nebulous void of agnosticism; surely not a cause for celebration, these occasions bring grief and a desire for greater healing as we seek unity.

 That they may be one…

I find it oh-so-temping and easy to simply sit by and judge. To wag my finger at Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and all the rest and declare that “Well, we did have many reforms, before, during, and after the Council of Trent, and us Catholics are in communion with each other, so really, we have no problems to speak of.”

“The Catholic Church acknowledges and confesses the weaknesses of her members, conscious that their sins are so many betrayals of and obstacles to the accomplishment of the Saviour's plan. Because she feels herself constantly called to be renewed in the spirit of the Gospel, she does not cease to do penance. At the same time, she acknowledges and exalts still more the power of the Lord, who fills her with the gift of holiness, leads her forward, and conforms her to his Passion and Resurrection.” (Pope St. John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint #3)

However, while the post-Protestant Reformation period did involve much beautiful growth and reform within the Catholic Church, and while we are in communion with each other, there is still so much work to be done. We squabble and fight, pushing away from each other in anger. It is good to discuss, debate, and seek clarity on a variety of issues. However, when we do this with hatred or pettiness, forgetting all sense of humility and charity, then I wonder if we in the Catholic Church are living out Christ’s tremendous call to unity.

“Love for the truth is the deepest dimension of any authentic quest for full communion between Christians. Without this love it would be impossible to face the objective theological, cultural, psychological and social difficulties which appear when disagreements are examined. This dimension, which is interior and personal, must be inseparably accompanied by a spirit of charity and humility. There must be charity towards one's partner in dialogue, and humility with regard to the truth which comes to light and which might require a review of assertions and attitudes.” (Pope St. John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint #36).

I once attended a formation session where the speaker pondered Luke 11:23, wondering if we can reflect on it each day. “Today, where did I scatter and where did I gather?” she mused. “That’s a good examination of conscience.”

Whether we’re debating doctrine online, dealing with issues at our local church or chatting with others at a school function, perhaps we can ask ourselves this question. Perhaps, too, we can offer a simple prayer:

That we will gather rather than scatter

That we will root our words, thoughts, and actions deeply in humility and charity…

That we will actively work to be one as Christ and the Father are one.



  1. This is so beautiful! A great reminder to seek unity in all things.

  2. Excellent!!! This was so good! I've always deeply appreciated my Protestant friends who have helped me grow a deeper personal relationship with the Lord. Though, like you, I believe the Catholic Church is the church established by Jesus and the truth, you make such a good point that it doesn't mean the Church doesn't get broken and messy and need "reformed" over and over again.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Laura! Reading through Ut Unum Sint recently (if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it-it's excellent!), I kept thinking of "metanoia," the Greek word for "repent and believe"--it was an emphasis of the TOR friars at my college, and it's something that I keep coming back to in my prayer life, especially in the past couple years. It's so important that we as individuals and as a Church continually work on the interior and exterior healing that needs to happen!