“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will
believe in me . . . that they may all be one, as you, Father,
are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the
world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them
the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are
one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to
perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent
me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, observed now January 18–25, dates back to 1908. The Decree on Ecumenism promulgated by the Second Vatican Council in 1964 gave new impetus to the work of mutual understanding and respect among Christian churches in the hope of ultimate reunification. But in a world as fragmented as ours is today—where religious, ethnic, and political differences quickly yield division, and division just as quickly turns to hostility and violence—disillusionment has dimmed enthusiasm. Jesus’ prayer for unity, as fine an ideal as it expresses, seems almost to have become an impossible dream.
Yet the fragmentation is by no means new. Divisions among us go back to the biblical stories of human beginnings: the first idyllic marriage fell into mistrust and mutual accusations, and human bonds disintegrated from there. And still do. Over time circumstances have changed, motives differed, but the reality of that pattern of antagonism giving rise to
mutual destruction has remained. We have only to check the news of the day. The root cause, past and present, seems to be misperception of the other, thanks to the deceptive tactics of evil.
What Jesus prayed for on the night of the Last Supper was not simply the mending of cracks in the human mirror meant to reflect the God who is One in love. In Jesus’ public ministry, he did re-gather those separated by sickness and sin. But in his paschal mystery he went below surface fragmentation into the deep destruction inflicted by evil and sin. There he
rejoined all that had been shattered since Eden. At a level we cannot see, he brought all of divided humanity together into communion with the God of life and love. He made human brokenness into his own Body (see Eph 2:11-14). This is the unity for which he prayed, lived, died—and for which he works still. It is a unity we can only guess at and do not yet live, but it must be our ultimate hope.
Jesus’ goal includes Christians but excludes no one. It is all humanity that is made to be one in the image of a God who is unity in a Trinity of love (cf. Gen 1:26). This transformation of reality demands a radical readjustment of our perception of one another. How we accomplish that is a puzzle we have yet to solve. But we are called to work at it constantly, not just with our minds but with all the love of God: that others may know we love them as God loves them.
Let us not disparage the hard, gritty, often thankless work of those who seek even in today’s world a real unity of belief and life among Christians—and let us not stop there. Jesus didn’t—and doesn’t.