Week of January 19, 2004
Seeking Christian unity:
Be patient and willing to enter unknown territory
By FR. THOMAS RYAN
Like a pilgrim's tent, Church structures should be provisional so they can be taken apart and put together again at each new stage of the journey.
Second on my list would be voluntary displacement. For Christians who are trying to unveil and bring visibly to the fore our essential unity in the Spirit, voluntary displacement has some real implications. It calls us to distance ourselves from the comfortable and the secure. As we begin to do this, we will experience our true condition as pilgrims on the way and as sinners in need of grace.
The Greek word for Church, "ekklesia," comes from two words: ek (out) and kaleo (to call). They indicate that we are called out of the familiar places to unknown territories.
We cannot enter into genuine dialogue without being changed. We cannot open ourselves to sharing life without being transformed. Our vision of Church will change. Our appraisal of other traditions will change.
Like a pilgrim's tent, Church structures should be provisional so they can be taken apart and put together again at each new stage of the journey. Voluntary displacement means we accept that as sojourners in the wilderness we are always moving forward to new campsites.
A third element in a spirituality for the long haul is biblical patience. True patience is the opposite of passive waiting in which we let things happen and allow others to make the decisions. Patience means entering actively into the thick of life and fully bearing the suffering within and around us. The word patience comes from the Latin verb "patior" which means "to suffer."
As Jean Vanier has said, "Most are in favour of Christian unity. Some are even willing to work for it. But few are willing to suffer for it."
Patience calls for creative waiting, for doing now what we can instead of moaning about what Church disciplines will not allow us to do. Biblical patience means overcoming the fear of a controversial subject, paying attention to shameful memories and searching for the healing that comes from understanding and forgiveness. It means being willing to accept or absorb negativity so the person who is the source of it will eventually go beyond it.
At the plenary meeting of the Council for Christian Unity, John Paul II said, "Despite the temptation to move too fast or to just give up, in the school of ecumenism we are learning to live this intermediate period with humble trust, knowing that it is a period of no return." A continuing commitment to dialogue and progress in Christian unity is possible, he said, only if we make it clear that "there is no other choice" because unity is the will of Jesus Christ for those who follow him.
He encouraged all Church members to contribute to the development of an ecumenical spirituality by participating in the Jan. 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and by praying frequently for the unity of all Christians.
(Paulist Father Thomas Ryan directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in New York City.)
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