By Fr. Daniel Renaud, OMI
(Editor’s Note: We present this reflection in observance of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25), thanks to the author and to Fr. Harry Winter, OMI.)
I am privileged to minister regularly with the director of recovery inistries, Chris Estus, at our local United Methodist Church in San Antonio ,TX. Chris is a candidate for the pastorship with the United Methodists and will hike 2,193 miles in 2021 as the newly selected Appalachian Trail Chaplain, a Holston Conference UMC ministry. Our work centers on assisting people in recovery of all Christian denominations to uncover the biblical roots of the twelve-step programs through a weekly meeting he founded 20 years ago. People struggling to recover from different types of addiction are welcome. Our relationship has helped me appreciate the call to ecumenical unity through pastoral ministry and prayer. I found out that the latest Ecumenical Vademecum for Bishops on Christian Unity, produced by The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and a long tradition of Church documents, calls this type of collaboration the dialogue of Love and Life (the dialogue of Truth focuses on doctrines). Although it focuses on the ministry of unity central to bishops, this document has insightful reflections and suggestions alighted with our ministry as oblate missionaries.
We can easily read this document in an hour or so. The first part, addressed to bishops, focuses on the ministry of bishops’ duty and obligation to promote unity (see Preface). It points to the source of unity within the Trinitarian mandate: “Insofar as Christians fail to be the visible sign of this unity they fail in their missionary duty to be the instrument bringing all people into the saving unity which is the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (#1). It is no big leap to see how this applies to our lives as missionaries and not a task and duty only relegated to bishops. Our Constitutions and Rules specifically speak of collaboration with all Christ-followers. It evokes the desire for unity as our own, as revealed in the prayer of Jesus in John 17: 21 (CR, #6). The call and presence of our Lord are created by unity. It forms the impetus of our mission in his Spirit (CR, #3).
The second part of the document is of more direct consequence for many of us. It expresses how vital it is to develop our ecumenical sensitivity and deepen the ecumenical practices integral to the apostolic life. It offers some concrete steps such as meeting with local pastors, combining efforts in liturgy and preaching, praying for Christian unity regularly, and learning to “discern where a healing of memories might be necessary and suggest concrete steps that may facilitate this” (see practical recommendations Part 2, section A and #24). Two references particularly attracted my attention; first, how our religious communities can be “privileged places of ecumenical hospitality, of prayer for unity and the exchange of gifts among Christians” (#23) and how we may read the fruits of what the Spirit has sown in us through those gifts (#27) and second, how we are called through prayer to deepen our communion in the ecumenism of blood (as Pope Francis calls it) for our martyred sisters and brothers in the world persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ (#22).
Of interest are the numerous and excellent practical suggestions found at the end of each section in the Vademecum. The Monastic Community of Grandchamp prepared the documents produced for 2021 by the World Council of Churches for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan 18-25). The theme “Abide in my love, and you shall bear much fruit“ is based on John 15:1-17. It expresses the Grandchamp Community’s vocation to prayer, reconciliation, and unity in the church and the human family.
The Vademecum on ecumenism ends with this inspiring prayer by Father Paul Couturier (1881–1953), a Catholic pioneer in the ecumenical movement and particularly of spiritual ecumenism:
Lord Jesus, on the night before you died for us,
you prayed that all your disciples may be perfectly one,
as you are in your Father and your Father is in you.
Make us painfully aware of our lack of faith in not being united.
Give us the faithfulness to acknowledge,
and the courage to reject, our hidden indifference,
distrust and even enmity towards one another.
Grant that we all may meet one another in you,
so that from our souls and our lips there may ever arise
your prayer for the unity of Christians
as you will it and by the means that you desire.
In you, who is perfect Love,
grant us to find the way that leads to unity,
in obedience to your love and your Truth.