Last year I wrote about the three kinds of unity for which we strive as Christians. Both the post itself (which you can read here) and the discussion in the comments section strike me as still valid. A recent experience on Facebook has convinced me, however, that we have a long way to go before we all attain to the kind of theological and historical fluency we need in order to be able to think about any kind of institutional unity. That leaves us with the need to work for unity within the Church to which we belong, and the everyday, pragmatic unity of working and praying alongside each other even if we cannot share the same sacraments or institutional structures.
Of these two, I think working for the unity of the Church to which we belong is the bigger challenge. Family quarrels are always more passionate than any other. We know each other too well, and, au fond, love each other too deeply, to retreat into polite disagreement. We care; and because we care, we are ready to fight tooth and nail. There is just one little problem with this nowadays. The digital revolution means that nothing can be kept private for very long, and when outsiders eavesdrop on the quarrelling, they are apt to draw the wrong conclusions. One could be forgiven for thinking sometimes that the Catholic Church is divided into two camps: Benedict XVI v. Francis, Tridentine v. Novus Ordo, Europe v. the rest of the world. It all smacks of ‘I am for Paul; I am for Apollos,’ doesn’t it? It matters, because only from the unity of the Church can the quest for further unity among Christians proceed. We can try to kid ourselves that we are working for unity by attending all kinds of prayer groups and meetings and making all sorts of ecumenical gestures, but unless we are united in the heart of the Church to which we belong, we are chasing a chimera.
So, on this first day of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, may I propose a little soul-searching? I suggest we each spend a moment or two thinking about the Church to which we belong and our membership of it. Do we contribute to its unity or detract from it? Does our unity impell us to seek unity with other Christians, or do we use ecumenism as a way of hiding from ourselves our own lack of commitment? The answers we give may not be what we would like, but unless we are honest with ourselves and others, how can we truly seek the unity for which Christ prayed?