by Father Mark Goldasich
It’s easy to give directions to Sacred Heart Church in Tonganoxie. Head to the west end of town. Whether you’re coming from the north or the south, we’re there on the highway . . . right between two Baptist churches.
In addition to our three buildings right in a row, there are another eight Christian churches in this town of some 5,000 people. Now, imagine what the numbers are in much larger cities. To me, it’s no mystery why we’re asked each year to celebrate an octave for Christian unity, beginning on Jan. 18 and ending on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Jan. 25.
I’m reminded of a story based on an Aesop fable:
There was once a father whose sons were constantly quarreling. One day, weary from their bickering, he asked them to bring him a bundle of sticks, which he handed to each son in turn, with the command to break it. None was able to do so.
Then the father tore open the bundle, handed each son a single stick and told him to try and break it. Each was able to snap the stick with ease.
“My sons,” the father said, “if you remain together and assist one another, you’ll have the strength of this bundle. If, however, you’re divided among yourselves, you’ll be broken as easily as these sticks.” (Adapted from “Stories for the Journey,” by William R. White.)
Now that was a wise father. This is probably what Jesus was thinking when, in his prayer to his Father for the disciples, he asked that “they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:11b).
While progress has been made over the years, we Christians still have plenty of work to do to understand and realize that all of us have Christ as our head. And we all have the commission to bring the voice, light, love and peace of Christ to others in our world, by our words and our deeds.
Here are a few suggestions on how to keep this Christian unity octave:
1. Realize that we’re praying for unity, not uniformity. It’s destructive when we Christians (even within the same denomination, for goodness sake) make disparaging remarks about one another. This “my-wayor the-highway” approach spreads division and discord and damages the body of Christ.
2. Say the Our Father — the prayer that we all have from the Lord — with attentiveness, paying special attention to the words “our” and “us,” by which we’re reminded that we’re a family of faith. Also, with regard to the point above, note the word “thy” and pray for the wisdom to avoid living as if it’s “my kingdom come” or “my will be done.” However, when we do fall into that trap, let’s also ask the Lord for the strength and patience to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
3. Strive to be a person of peace. This prayer from Catholic Relief Services is one for all Christians to pray — not only during the octave, but daily: “Lord God, we come to you in our need. Create in us an awareness of the massive forces that threaten our world today. Give us a sense of urgency to activate the forces of goodness, of justice, of love and of peace. Where there is armed conflict, let us stretch our arms to our brothers and sisters. Where there is abundance, let there be simple lifestyle and sharing. Where there is poverty, let there be dignified living and constant striving for just structures. Where there are wounds of division, let there be unity and wholeness. Help us to be committed to the building of your kingdom. Not seeking to be cared for, but to care. Not expecting to be served, but to place ourselves at the service of others. Not aspiring to be materially secure, but to place our security in your love. Teach us your spirit. Only in loving imitation of you can we discover the healing springs of life that will bring new birth to our world.”
Or maybe we can just remember what Mother Teresa said so succinctly: “Peace begins with a smile.” During this unity octave, send a smile or two to fellow Christians, especially if they’re your neighbors.