Praying and working for Christian unity Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes, a column by Fr. Donald Lange

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will be held from January 18 to 25 this year.

Its theme is “Has Christ Been Divided?” This theme is based upon 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, where St. Paul — angry over divisions in the Corinthian Church — wrote, “Each of you is saying ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos’ or ‘I belong to Kephas’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided?”

In John 17: 20-21 Jesus prays for unity among his followers by saying, “I pray also for those who will believe in me, so they may all be one as you Father are in me and I in you, so that the world may know that you have sent me.”

Christ wants us to pray for unity within the Catholic Church. But the week focuses upon praying for unity between churches because Christ wanted his followers to be united.

Lack of unity hurts the holy cause of proclaiming the Gospel and witnessing to Christ.

Ecumenical efforts

“Ecumenism” refers to movements intended to achieve greater cooperation and unity among Christian churches.

On one level of ecumenism, the churches work for unity in doctrine. Theologians contribute an important part to this level.

Another level involves focusing upon what we Catholics have in common with other churches. These include belief in Christ’s divinity, prayer, love of neighbor, helping the poor, and much more.

One of the fruits of the ecumenical movement is to enable Christians of goodwill to cooperate in areas in which they agree. Churches can also work together ecumenically to counteract atheistic secular values. Today we swim and risking drowning in dangerous currents of secular values.

Activities at the local level

I served my first year of priesthood at St. William Parish in Janesville. At that time most West side churches participated in ecumenism. We met as clergy, but clergy and laity also participated in “Living Room Dialogues.” From these groups came the Rock County Jail Chaplaincy group and other blessings.

After a year at St. William’s, I served at Beloit Catholic High for 20 years. My brief but deep involvement with ecumenism in Janesville enabled me to teach a course on ecumenism to Beloit Catholic High students.

Because I taught high school, I was free to participate with the Jail Chaplaincy group in Good Friday and Christmas Eve prayer services. After the services, I could still help at St. Paul’s Easter Masses and the Good Friday service.

When I became pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Barneveld, we cooperated ecumenically on numerous projects with two other churches.

These projects included food pantries, working and praying for peace, cooperating with the local high school to keep “church night” sacred, and much more. After I retired, I deeply appreciated the plaque I received from Barneveld Lutheran Church.

Hope for unity

The Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute offers this statement of challenge and hope for unity: “Churches continue to be divided by doctrine, polity, and practice.

“At the same time our pilgrimage towards unity continues under God’s guidance. Being faithful to Christ’s desire for the unity of his disciples has led to this year’s theme which focuses on St. Paul’s confronting question in 1 Corinthians: ‘Has Christ Been Divided?’”

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.