I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, by Chloe's people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying,"I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” 1 Corinthians 1:10-13
Unity. Jesus’ last prayer for his future disciples was for us to be one, to be unified:
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
Did you catch that? Jesus said that our witness, our ability to lead others to Christ, is dependent upon our unity as disciples. It must have been mighty important to Jesus for him to spend his final words praying for us to be one. And then twenty years later, Paul writes to the church in Corinth with the exact same request: Come together. Unify. Be one. Stop your divisions.
And finally, here we are over 2,000 years later dealing with the exact same issue. There are over 40,000 Christian denominations, most of which split from others over infant/adult baptism, homosexuality, music in worship, finances, women in leadership, etc. So, fellow Catholics, let’s pat ourselves on the back for getting this one correct! Well… maybe not so fast. ;) Maybe, like most of his teachings, Jesus was less concerned with our outward appearance, and more concerned with our hearts.
The truth of the matter is that even within individual churches there are factions of groups: the traditionalists, the progressives, those that prefer one priest over the other, those who think we need to be more strict about attendance and financial giving and then others who think we’re too strict already, those that think Vatican II was a step too far and others who think it didn’t go far enough. Add in the opinions over church music from people in the pews and this can explode: “We believe Church should only be 4-part hymns with organ. Drums and guitar are evil.” “We refuse to sing old hymns that are outdated – only contemporary worship music.” “All the music is new – Can’t we just sing our favorites?” “Why do we sing the same songs EVERY week? Can you please spice things up?”
So, where do we go from here? What does Jesus want from us? Does he actually expect us to agree on every detail? That’s not realistic. Does he want us to keep quiet and act like we agree? That doesn’t sound like him either. So what then?
The answer might be hidden in the first line of our New Testament reading: “…brothers and sisters…” As a church, we are a family and as a family, our goal shouldn’t be to blindly agree with each other to achieve surface-level peace and unity. Rather, we should care so much for one another that we are willing to engage in edifying discussions when we recognize meaningful disagreements, not in a spirit of anger or self-righteousness, but a spirit of love. Our unity can only be found in love.
Too often when we engage each other, it’s not in a spirit of love because our hearts were unprepared. It’s our job to allow God to change our hearts loooong before we begin to open our mouths. When we bring it to God first, we know we’ll be led forward in love, not in hate, arrogance, or stubbornness. Then and only then will we be able to stand side-by-side when we disagree. We’ll choose to swallow our pride and allow the other to win this time. We’ll choose to see it through their eyes. We’ll choose humility and wonder if there’s a chance that we could be wrong. We’ll choose not to judge, but instead, to love.
My husband, Patrick, during this political election year, decided he would create an online game show (don’t worry, I talked him out of it) entitled “You Might Be Right”. The idea of the ‘game’ is that multiple people on opposite sides of the religious or political spectrum would sit down to discuss what they believe. The first person to say “You might be right” wins. You see it was never about winning. It was about humility. We should be more proud of ourselves for being able to see the other’s point of view than winning them over to our side.
On the same token, may we, the Church, seek Truth by approaching each other only out of love for one another and true humility, knowing that our perspective may not be the right one. May we be a humble people. And before we make a move or speak a word, may we only proceed in love. By this, we will be unified.
“We are One in the Spirit, we are One in the Lord. And we pray that all unity may one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”