By Dick Barrett
By the time you read this column in the Evangel, the United States will have voted to elect or re-elect its next president. Hopefully, by the time you are reading this we will know who won. It seems like each election cycle creates more and more division in our country. The United States is divided in so many ways: politically, how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, how to respond to the disproportionate deaths of black people at the hands of police officers, how to respond to increased violence in its cities, how best to provide affordable health care for all its citizens, and on and on and on. The United States is a divided country. Perhaps even its name, the “United States,” might be one of the biggest oxymorons that exists today.
However, my concern is not the current level of divisiveness in the United States of America. My concern is the level of divisiveness in the Church of Jesus Christ. In many ways, the people in our churches don’t look that different than those outside the church. That should cause us to take notice, since God has always desired unity among his people. In one of the shortest Psalms in the Bible we find David’s song for unity:
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. — Psalm 133 (NIV)
Where does God bestow his blessings and life forevermore? Where his people live together in unity!
Jesus prayed a similar prayer. Just prior to his great priestly prayer that he prayed on the last night of his life here on earth, Jesus said, “I have told you these [many] things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Then Jesus prays his longest prayer recorded in Scripture, which contains these words (bold emphasis mine):
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.
May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that them may be brought together in complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” — John 17:20-23
Unity is not the same as uniformity. Unity is the coming together in the midst of diversity for a common mission and purpose. It involves exchanging our will for Christ’s will. Jesus seemed to believe that unity was necessary if the world was going to know him. We become united in the Church when we acknowledge that Jesus himself is our common mission and purpose. Through repentance (turning from our own selfish wills and ways towards God’s will and ways) and faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, we become united as one body in Christ with God as our Father, and we as brothers and sisters with Jesus. When we cultivate unity in the body of Christ, we acknowledge that Jesus is in control and that his grace is sufficient to cover our differences.
As we enter into this special time of the year when we celebrate Thanksgiving and the first Christmas, may we seek God’s heart and ask Him to draw His Church together as one, so that the world will believe in the One that God has sent to unite us.
In closing, I would like to share this prayer* from Archabbot Kurt Stasiak, OSB, of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana.
Prayer for Peace
Inspired by the Roman Missal
O God, author and lover of peace,
You strengthen the weak,
comfort the afflicted,
and accompany all who seek
to care for your people.
Send your spirit upon us all:
a spirit of peace and truth,
a spirit of justice and right.
Bring together your flock,
scattered now in so many different ways.
May we find in you the reason for our unity
and the hope for our peace.
Look with love and compassion
on your suffering Church.
And may we, your children,
truly become the peacemakers
you have called us to be.
*Used with permission