The Struggle for Christian Unity

During His time on earth, Jesus prayed “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.” But when we look around our world, or even around our parishes, we see division rather than unity.

This is nothing new. As Fr. Mattew Spencer, OSJ explained on a recent St. Joseph’s Workshop, even the early Christians struggled to be united in their faith. Fr. Matthew reflected on St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and how the words of St. Paul can help us even today as we work toward Christian unity. Fr. Matthew said:

“We’ve all experienced division. And it’s painful when it happens in families, and it can become scandalous when it happens in our faith lives. … This is so important that you and I be united in our churches, in our parishes, in our faith life. And yet there is a lot of tension, isn’t there?

Maybe you’ve experienced that in your own church. Maybe there are certain prayer groups who are not united, and there are those who have certain ministries that they get territorial about. Sometimes they get exclusive, saying, ‘Only those people are welcome. Only these people can be here.’

It’s the same problem we’ve had since the very beginning of the Church. In fact, it’s the same problem we’ve had since the Fall – of sin and division in our lives.

I think what I take away from Paul’s writing and from James’ letter is that you and I are going to have to continue to strive for unity in the Church. We’re going to have to strive to overcome division in the Church.

And sadly, I’m sorry to say this, it doesn’t happen naturally. Look at your own family and the divisions you’ve experienced. It’s true, sometimes time can heal wounds, and with time people will put behind them the hurts and wounds of the past. But it seems to me, more often than not, it takes a decision by certain individuals to ask for forgiveness and ask for repentance. And it takes that courage to forgive and to be healed.

I mean, we have to do this in our families, you have to do this in your marriage, we have to do this in our religious communities. We’re having to do this all the time as Christians – heal broken relationships, restore our communities back to union again, fight against division, and not let division separate us further.

That doesn’t mean some sense of compromise or watering down our faith. What it means is having that unity rooted in truth. And the principal truth here, as Paul points out, is the centrality of the Eucharist. The most important thing a community should be doing – in Corinth just as in our own times – is to celebrate the Eucharist well, and to celebrate it together.

Some people get upset when they come to a Mass and they hear that the Eucharist is reserved for those who are in full Communion with the Church. Some people see that as the Church creating division and keeping us separated. But no, we want you to be part of this banquet too, we want you to come to this Eucharist too. But it has to happen in fullness of communion. It has to happen when you and I are sharing the same beliefs, and then the beliefs that we share can lead us to share in the same Communion that we receive at the altar of Jesus.

It’s part of the fundamental teachings of the Church that we are going to find communion in the truth, and the truth leads us to Communion, and Communion leads us together to greater truth. That is why we must always strive to be rooted in the truth and to live that truth well in our lives.”

Listen to the full reflection below:

St. Joseph’s Workshop airs weekdays at 7:00 p.m. Eastern/4:00 p.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.