(Note: This is not intended to be anything more than my own thoughts and reflections. It is not the be-all and end-all of anything. It is not a condemnation of anyone else or meant to be hurtful towards anyone. It’s just my thoughts.)
For as long as I can remember, Christian unity has been a cause that was near and dear to my heart. I’ve long held that John 17:20-23 is one of my favorite passages. Growing up in an ecumenical community, I was profoundly aware that Christians of different denominations could work and pray together. I saw this happen in prayer meetings and at the summer camps I attended. On the other hand, growing up Byzantine Catholic and attending Roman Catholic schools showed me firsthand some of the deeper divisions among Christians.
I grew up with a strong awareness that I was different from my RC peers. No one ever intentionally tried to make me feel like I was different, but it was hard to hide from the facts. I was able to receive the Eucharist before any of my peers. My peers mostly went to churches that were near their homes while my family drove 35+ minutes to church. I made the Sign of the Cross differently. On the rare occasions that we said the Nicene Creed, I clamped my mouth shut for three words. I had no problems saying “Alleluia!” during Lent. I didn’t see my school friends at church. I was different.
And I was deeply aware of the brokenness of the Body of Christ. I saw the brokenness in the differences between myself and my classmates. (“You’re making the Sign of the Cross wrong again!”) I saw the brokenness in the fact that my RC friends would decline my invitations to attend church with me. (“I’m just not into that kind of thing.”) I saw the brokenness in the differing liturgical calendars between different faith traditions. (“Why do you have to go to church tonight? Ascension is on Sunday.”)
I found it painful to see this brokenness, and as I grew up, I had a variety of reactions to it. When I was in early high school, I went through a phase where I thought that the best way to resolve this issue was to teach others about my church and encourage them to visit it. Nothing really happened. My brother had friends who were interested in our church, but I didn’t. That hurt me even though I wasn’t good at verbalizing my hurt.
Then, I tried to avoid the brokenness; I didn’t want to deal with it. From about age 16 until about age 24 or 25, I went through a several year period where I really hated seeing differences and divisions. I wanted to ignore them. I wasn’t happy being Byzantine Catholic because it made me weird and different and unusual. I wanted to be Roman Catholic. I talked about how I wanted to marry a Roman Catholic man so I wouldn’t have to be Byzantine anymore.
Why did I want to be Roman Catholic? I didn’t want to be weird. I didn’t want to be different. I had all kinds of excuses for why I wanted to leave the Byzantine Catholic Church, but really, when I sat down at about age 24 and confronted myself, I only wanted to leave the East because I didn’t like being different. I was sick of being one of only a very few young women in the church I attended. I was sick of being different from my friends.
Somewhere around age 25, I came to see that I am called to be Byzantine Catholic at this point in my life. As I came to this realization, I saw that while the Body of Christ is broken, there is beauty in this broken Body. There is beauty in our unity. The call to unity is a hard call. There are things that we do not share. I still clamp my mouth shut for three words every time I attend a Roman Mass at which we pray the Nicene Creed. I make the Sign of the Cross differently from my friends. We don’t always share the same feasts. I can’t receive the Eucharist in an Orthodox Church. I almost laughed in a friend’s face once as she expostulated on how wonderful it is that no matter where you go in the world every Catholic Mass looks pretty much the same. (Oh darling, you meant to say Roman Catholic Mass.) I occasionally resist the urge to email various Catholic bloggers and ask them to please specify that they are Roman Catholic and that not everything that they say is true for all Catholics is actually true for all Catholics.
It’s hard. It is hard to share a common life with people who do not share all of our traditions. It can be hard to know how to approach certain situations in an ecumenical context. How do you discuss certain things? What topics should you avoid? And I don’t have any easy answers to those questions. I don’t know what the right things to do are all of the time. I don’t even know how make certain things stop bothering/troubling me. I screw up plenty in this regard. I’m sure that I offend people at times. Heck, knowing me, I’m probably offending someone with this post.
“May the Holy Spirit guide us along the way of reconciliation, so that the unity of our Churches may become an ever more radiant sign of hope and consolation for all mankind.”
But I know that unity matters. I know that unity is important to the Body of Christ. I know that the Trinity is Three Persons in One God; the Trinity is our model for unity. I don’t know how to fix difficulties between Churches. But I pray for God to make us one as the Trinity is One. I pray for healing of wounds and restoration of relationships. I pray for bridges to be built. I pray for Church leaders to be given wisdom and hope.
I don’t want to change people’s minds. I don’t want to force my RC friends to become Byzantine Catholic-although I would love it if they had a greater knowledge of my Church. I want to promote understanding. I want to encourage people to understand one another more and love one another more deeply. I want to encourage people to pray for unity and to work for unity. I know that Jesus wants unity. I know that only he can heal our wounds, and I know that he wants to do so.
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
-John 17: 20-23
Father, make us one. Show us how to love as you love.