One Family in Christ
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
By: Jeff Smith
I grew up in a big Catholic family—I had eight brothers and sisters! And today, even though we live great distances from one another, I still feel very committed to them. We don’t all agree on everything, and we all have different philosophies of life. Still, if any of us were in real need, I know that every one of us would do anything we could to help.
In a similar way, the Scriptures and the Church teach us that even though we are divided into many different churches and denominations, Christian believers remain brothers and sisters with each other. We may not have perfect unity, but we are still part of the same family in Christ.
Unity Is All of Our Concern. I bring this up because this month, the Church invites us to participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18–25). During this week, we are encouraged to reflect on all the sad divisions among Christians—Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox—and to pray as Jesus did at the Last Supper, “That they may all be one” (John 17:21). And in keeping with this calling, we have dedicated this month’s issue to the call to unity.
As you will read in this month’s articles, every pope from St. John XXIII to Francis has spoken about the need for Catholics to pray and strive for unity with our Protestant and Orthodox brothers and sisters. Perhaps Pope St. John Paul II said it most eloquently in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint: “Ecumenism, the movement promoting Christian unity, is not just some sort of ‘appendix’ which is added to the Church’s traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all she is and does” (20).
Now, people might say, “Of course this is essential, but it’s really the work of the pope and bishops and theologians. There’s not much I can do.” Yet the Church insists that “the attainment of union is the concern of the whole Church, faithful and shepherds alike. This concern extends to everyone” (Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio, 5). It’s all of our concern because every Christian, no matter their church background, is our brother or sister.
Pray for Unity. I am grateful to journey alongside many dedicated Catholics, along with disciples from other traditions. Over the course of my life, I have had deep friendships with brothers and sisters from Methodist, Lutheran, and Reformed traditions. I have been spurred on to love the Lord by Orthodox and Pentecostal and nondenominational brothers and sisters. I realize that we are divided, and I long and pray for our unity. But that doesn’t diminish all the ways I have been enriched by these brothers and sisters in Christ.
This month, pray for unity. As Pope Benedict XVI has urged, “Pray, asking God with insistence for the great gift of unity among all disciples of the Lord . . . so that we may all profess together that Jesus is the Savior of the world” (General Audience, January 16, 2013).