The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2011
One in the apostles’ teaching,
fellowship, breaking of bread
(cf. Acts 2:42)
Reflections on the Theme
from the speeches of Pope Benedict XVI
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, NRSV)
Reflecting on this theme, the holy father, Pope Benedict XVI in his Angelus address of 23 January 2011 said:
Today too, to be a sign and instrument in the world of intimate union with God and of unity among men, we Christians must base our life on these four cardinal principles: life founded on the faith of the Apostles transmitted in the living Tradition of the Church, fraternal communion, the Eucharist and prayer. Only in this way, being closely united to Christ, can the Church effectively accomplish her mission, despite the limits and failures of her members, despite the divisions, which the apostle Paul already had to confront in the community of Corinth...
During the almost-six years of his Pontificate so far, Benedict XVI has often addressed the subject of ecumenism with rich and penetrating insights. Here are some short reflections extracted from the holy father's speeches on various occasions, where he touched on the "four cardinal principles" mentioned above.
Our commitment to Christian unity is born of nothing less than our faith in Christ, in this Christ, risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father, who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. It is the reality of Christ’s person, his saving work and above all the historical fact of his resurrection, which is the content of the apostolic kerygma and those credal formulas which, beginning in the New Testament itself, have guaranteed the integrity of its transmission. The Church’s unity, in a word, can never be other than a unity in the apostolic faith, in the faith entrusted to each new member of the Body of Christ during the rite of Baptism. It is this faith which unites us to the Lord, makes us sharers in his Holy Spirit, and thus, even now, sharers in the life of the Blessed Trinity, the model of the Church’s koinonia here below. (Benedict XVI, Address at the Conclusion of the Ecumenical Vespers, Westminster Abbey, Friday, 17 September 2010)
For this reason, ecumenical dialogue advances not only through an exchange of ideas but by a sharing in mutually enriching gifts (cf. Ut Unum Sint, 28; 57). An “idea” aims at truth; a “gift” expresses love. Both are essential to dialogue. Opening ourselves to accept spiritual gifts from other Christians quickens our ability to perceive the light of truth which comes from the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul teaches that it is within the koinonia of the Church that we have access to and the means of safeguarding the truth of the Gospel, for the Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” with Jesus himself as the cornerstone (Eph 2:20). (Benedict XVI, Address at the Ecumenical Meeting, Crypt of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, 18 July 2008)
Eucharist - the Breaking of Bread
Is not this what the Apostle Paul said in the reading we have just heard? In writing to the Corinthians he said: "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (I Cor 10: 17).
The consequence is clear: we cannot communicate with the Lord if we do not communicate with one another. If we want to present ourselves to him, we must also take a step towards meeting one another.
To do this we must learn the great lesson of forgiveness: we must not let the gnawings of resentment work in our soul, but must open our hearts to the magnanimity of listening to others, open our hearts to understanding them, eventually to accepting their apologies, to generously offering our own.
The Eucharist, let us repeat, is the sacrament of unity. Unfortunately, however, Christians are divided, precisely in the sacrament of unity. Sustained by the Eucharist, we must feel all the more roused to striving with all our strength for that full unity which Christ ardently desired in the Upper Room. (Benedict XVI, Homily at the Closing of the XXIVth Italian National Eucharistic Congress, Esplanade of Marisabella, Sunday, 29 May 2005)
The conciliar Decree on Ecumenism refers to prayer for unity when, at the very end, its states that the Council realizes that "this holy objective - the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ - transcends human powers and gifts. It therefore places its hope entirely in the prayer of Christ for the Church" (n. 24). It is the consciousness of our human limitations that impels us to trusting abandonment in the hands of the Lord. Clearly, the profound meaning of this Week of Prayer is precisely that of relying entirely on the prayer of Christ, who continues to pray in his Church that "they may all be one... so that the world may believe..." (Jn 17: 21). Today, we feel the weight of these words strongly. The world is suffering from the absence of God, from inaccessibility to God; it longs to know God's Face. But how could and can people today recognize this Face of God in the Face of Jesus Christ if we Christians are separated, if one contradicts the other, if one is against the other? Only in unity can we truly show to this world - which needs it - God's Face, Christ's Face. It is also obvious that it is not with our own policies, with dialogue and all that we do - which is nevertheless so necessary - that we shall be able to obtain this unity. What we can obtain is our willingness and ability to welcome this unity when the Lord gives it to us. This is the meaning of prayer: to open our hearts, to create within us this willingness that paves the way to Christ. In the liturgy of the ancient Church, after the homily the Bishop or the one who presided at the celebration, the principal celebrant, would say: Conversi ad Dominum. Then he and everyone would rise and turn to the East. They all wanted to look towards Christ. Only if we are converted, only in this conversion to Christ, in this common gaze at Christ, will we be able to find the gift of unity. (Benedict XVI, General Audience, Paul VI Audience Hall, 23 January 2008)
Pope Benedict XVI's reflections are honest, deep and moving in the power of truth. They give a new impetus to the century old ecumenical movement.
Feel free to leave your reflections in the comments