Finding ecumenical paths towards unity

YOUCAT poses the question “What must we do for the unity of Christians?” Unity is the business of all Christians regardless of how young or old they are! Jesus prayed to the Father, “that they all may be one”.  John 17.


The desire for unity is something that we all endeavour to achieve. Families strive for unity. Sports teams try to play as one. Followers of politics try to achieve a common aim. Religious people have similar targets. Bringing the message of Christ to everyone involved in evangelisation and ecumenism!


Contrast two very different people who attempted in different ways to achieve forms of unity. Their experiences of inequality or difference helped to shape and effect change in their world.


Huge impact
Yves Congar was French and became a Dominican priest in the early 20th Century. His writings on ecumenism and the role of the laity in time made a huge impact on Catholic theology. War and sectarianism shaped his formative years. Shortly before ordination he had a deep religious experience. It was based on John 17 and the great prayer of Jesus for unity. He gradually realised that his vocation was to “work for the unity of all who believe in Jesus Christ”. He lived the rest of his life putting shape on this dream, putting shape on his ideas through scholarly work and pastoral work.


Over the years he became one of the most important theologians of his generation. Ecumenism shaped his life. Many of his ideas helped to shape some of the themes of the Second Vatican Council. For Congar unity celebrated pluralism and diversity. He expressed it in this way, “…the Church’s mission, it is fulfilled only if the Gospel be declared to every creature, if creation with all its growth and increase be offered in Christ; it is not fulfilled in all its requirements and consequences unless there be a Christian influence opening the way to faith at the level of human structures, at work throughout civilisation to turn it Christward.”


The second person is Martin Luther King. In Washington 1963, he gave one of the most challenging political speeches of the 20th Century. The son of a preacher, he was a black man struggling to find the words to express himself, to gather a nation and build a society that was equal. Mahilia Jackson told him, “Tell ‘em about the dream”. What followed was one of the most electrifying speeches, a secular sermon on the mount given to the hundreds of thousands of people of all colours. It was religious in tone, building on themes of scripture. It borrowed core ideas from Jefferson and Lincoln to propel a vision of unity. While much has changed over the years, the vision is still a challenge for everyone who attempts to achieve a community of people based on unity, fairness and justice.


For those who lament the change in Church and society, there can be no looking back with nostalgia. There can only be a desire to continue to bring this message of unity and equality to the human structures that we encounter.


 It was St Ignatius of Loyola who said: “Most people have no idea what God would make of them if they would only place themselves at his disposal.” Just imagine if each of listened and responded to the call of God. We all can “have a dream”.


Each of us is called to make a difference in the world we live in. We can be the difference to the world.