Christian Unity


Pope Francis   16.01.19      General Audience  Pope VI  Audience Hall     Catechesis on the Lord's Prayer

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This coming Friday, with the celebration of Vespers in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins, with the theme: ‘Justice and only justice you shall pursue’.

This year too we are called to pray, that all Christians may return to being one family, consistent with the divine will that “they may all be one” (Jn 17:21).

Ecumenism is not an optional thing. The intention will be that of maturing a common and universal witness in the affirmation of true justice and in support of the weakest, through concrete, appropriate and effective responses.







   
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Today marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, in which all of us are asked to implore from God this great gift. Christian unity is a fruit of God’s grace, and we must dispose ourselves to accept it with generous and open hearts. This evening I am particularly pleased to pray together with representatives of other Churches present in Rome, and I offer them a fraternal and heartfelt greeting. I also greet the ecumenical delegation from Finland, the students of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, who are visiting Rome to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic Church. My greeting also goes to the young Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox students sponsored by the Committee for Cultural Collaboration with Orthodox Churches of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The Book of Deuteronomy sees the people of Israel encamped in the plains of Moab, about to enter the land that God promised them. Here Moses, as a kind father and the leader appointed by the Lord, repeats the Law to the people, and instructs and reminds them that they must live with fidelity and justice once they have been established in the Promised Land.

The passage we have just heard shows how to celebrate the three main feasts of the year: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks), Sukkot (Tabernacles). Each of these feasts requires Israel to give thanks for the good things received from God. The celebration of a feast calls for everyone’s participation. No one is to be excluded: “And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place which the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there” (Deut 16:11).

Each of these feasts requires a pilgrimage to the “place that the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there” (v. 2). There the faithful Israelite must come before God. Though the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt, lacking personal possessions, they are not to “appear before the Lord empty-handed” (v. 16); the gift of each is to correspond to the blessing received from the Lord. In this way, all will receive their share of the country’s wealth and will benefit from God’s goodness.

It should not surprise us that the biblical text passes from the celebration of the three principal feasts to the appointment of judges. The feasts themselves exhort the people to justice, stating that all are fundamentally equal and all equally dependent on God’s mercy. They also invite all to share with others the gifts they have received. Rendering honour and glory to the Lord in these yearly feasts goes hand in hand with rendering honour and justice to one’s neighbour, especially the weak and those in need.

The Christians of Indonesia, reflecting on the theme chosen for this Week of Prayer, decided to draw inspiration from these words of Deuteronomy: “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” (16:20). They are deeply concerned that the economic growth of their country, driven by the mentality of competition, is leaving many in poverty and allowing a small few to become immensely wealthy. This jeopardizes the harmony of a society in which people of different ethnic groups, languages and religions live together and share a sense of responsibility for one another.

But that is not simply the case in Indonesia; it is a situation we see worldwide. When society is no longer based on the principle of solidarity and the common good, we witness the scandal of people living in utter destitution amid skyscrapers, grand hotels and luxurious shopping centres, symbols of incredible wealth. We have forgotten the wisdom of the Mosaic law: if wealth is not shared, society is divided.

Saint Paul, writing to the Romans, applies the same thinking to the Christian community: those who are strong must bear with the weak. It is not Christian “to please ourselves” (15:1). Following Christ’s example, we are to make every effort to build up those who are weak. Solidarity and shared responsibility must be the laws that govern the Christian family.

As God’s holy people, we too constantly find ourselves on the threshold of entering the Lord’s promised kingdom. Yet, since we are also divided, we need to recall God’s summons to justice. Christians too risk adopting the mentality known to the ancient Israelites and contemporary Indonesians, namely that in the pursuit of wealth, we forget about the weak and those in need. It is easy to forget the fundamental equality existing among us: that once we were all slaves to sin, that the Lord saved us in baptism and called us his children. It is easy to think that the spiritual grace granted us is our property, something to which we are due, our property. The gifts we have received from God can also blind us to the gifts given to other Christians. It is a grave sin to belittle or despise the gifts that the Lord has given our brothers and sisters, and to think that God somehow holds them in less esteem. When we entertain such thoughts, we allow the very grace we have received to become a source of pride, injustice and division. And how can we then enter the promised kingdom?

The worship befitting that kingdom, the worship demanded by justice, is a celebration that includes everyone, a feast in which gifts received are available to and shared by all. To take the first steps towards the promised land that is our unity, we must first of all recognize with humility that the blessings we have received are not ours by right, but have come to us as a gift; they were given to be shared with others. Then, we must acknowledge the value of the grace granted to other Christian communities. As a result, we will want to partake of the gifts of others. A Christian people renewed and enriched by this exchange of gifts will be a people capable of journeying firmly and confidently on the path that leads to unity.




Pope Francis  22.01.20   General Audience     Pope VI Audience Hall        Catechesis on Christian Unity      Acts 28: 2 

Pope Francis Christian Unity 22.01.20

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today's catechesis is harmonised with the Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians. This year's theme, which is that of hospitality, was developed by the communities of Malta and Gozo, starting from the passage of the Acts of the Apostles that tells of the hospitality reserved by the inhabitants of Malta to St Paul and his fellow travellers, who were shipwrecked together with him. I referred to just this episode in my catechesis of two weeks ago.

So let us start from the dramatic experience of that shipwreck. The ship in which Paul was travelling was at the mercy of the elements. They had been at sea for fourteen days, adrift, and since neither the sun nor the stars are visible, the seafarers felt disoriented, lost. Beneath them the sea is striking violently against the ship and they fear that it will break under the force of the waves. From above they are lashed by the wind and rain. The strength of the sea and the storm is terribly powerful and indifferent to the fate of the seafarers: there were more than 260 people!

But Paul who knows that is not like this, speaks. His faith tells him that his life is in the hands of God, who rose Jesus from the dead, and who called him, Paul, to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. His faith also tells him that God, according to what Jesus has revealed, is a loving Father. Therefore Paul turns to his fellow travellers and, inspired by faith, announces to them that God will not allow a hair of their head to be lost.

This prophecy comes true when the ship runs aground on the coast of Malta and all of the passengers reach the mainland safely. And there they experience something new. In contrast to the brutal violence of the stormy sea, they receive the testimony of the "rare humanity" of the inhabitants of the island. These people, foreign to them, are attentive to their needs. They light a fire to warm them up, and give them shelter from the rain and food. Even though they have not yet received the Good News of Christ, they show God's love in concrete acts of kindness. In fact, spontaneous hospitality and thoughtful gestures communicate something about God's love. And the hospitality of the Maltese islanders is repaid by the miracles of healing that God works through Paul on the island. So, if the people of Malta were a sign of God's Providence for the Apostle, he too witnessed God's merciful love for them.

Dear ones, hospitality is important; and it is also an important ecumenical virtue. First of all, it means acknowledging that other Christians are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ. We're brothers. Someone will tell you: "But that is Protestant, the orthodox one ..." Yes, but we are brothers in Christ. It is not an one-way act of generosity, because when we give hospitality to other Christians we welcome them as a gift that is given to us. Like the Maltese - these good Maltese - we are rewarded, because we receive what the Holy Spirit has sown in these brothers and sisters of ours, and this becomes a gift for us too, because the Holy Spirit also sows his graces everywhere. Welcoming Christians of another tradition means firstly showing God's love to them, because they are children of God – our brothers – and also means welcoming what God has accomplished in their lives. Ecumenical hospitality requires a willingness to listen to others, paying attention to their personal stories of faith and the history of their community, communities of faith with another tradition other than our own. Ecumenical hospitality involves the desire to know the experience that other Christians have of God and the expectation of receiving the spiritual gifts that come with it. And this is a grace, discovering this is a grace. I think of the past, my land for example. When some evangelical missionaries came, a small group of Catholics went to burn their tents. This is not: it is not Christian. We are brothers, we are all brothers and we have to give hospitality with each other.

Today, the sea on which Paul and his companions were shipwrecked is once again a dangerous place for the lives of other seafarers. All over the world, migrant men and women face risky journeys to escape violence, to escape war, to escape poverty. As Paul and his companions experience indifference, the hostility of the desert, of rivers, of the seas... So many times they don't let them land in the ports. But, unfortunately, they sometimes also encounter much worse hostility from men. They are exploited by criminal traffickers: today! They are treated as numbers and as a threat by some rulers: today! Sometimes inhospitality rejects them like a wave back to the poverty or the dangers from which they have fled.

We, as Christians, must work together to show migrants the love of God revealed by Jesus Christ. We can and must testify that there is not only hostility and indifference, but that every person is precious to God and loved by Him. The divisions that still exist between us prevent us from being fully the sign of God's love. Working together to live ecumenical hospitality, especially towards those whose lives are most vulnerable, will make us all Christians – Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, all Christians – better human beings, better disciples and a Christian people that is more united. It will bring us ever closer to unity, which is God's will for us.