A year ago this weekend, Pope Francis and Bishop Yunan, President of the Lutheran World Federation gathered for a Prayer Service in Lund, Sweden. The service marked the beginning of a year to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. During this gathering, they also signed a joint declaration which outlines the progress made in Lutheran and Catholic dialogue over the past 50 years, since the Second Vatican Council.
Yesterday, almost 500 years to the day (October 31, 1517) when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church, my Lutheran counterpart, Bishop Shelley Wickstrom and I led a joint Lutheran and Catholic prayer service at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral.
The Prayer Service, entitled From Conflict To Communion is modeled on a service that has been used around the world this past year for similar gatherings.
Though our crowd was a modest one, our prayer was Spirit-filled and up-lifting. I am grateful to Bishop Wiskstrom for her invitation to participate in this event, and for her remarks during the prayer service. I’m also grateful to those who helped co-ordinate and participated in it.
Both Bishop Wickstrom and I offered a brief homily during the prayer service. Below, you will find my remarks:
Our Gospel selection today comes from the Last Supper Discourse of Jesus. It is interesting that he draws the attention of his disciples to the importance of unity – unity with Him – and in Him with one another – even as he is being rejected.
These words also follow closely upon the revelation that one of the Twelve will betray him. And yet, Jesus prays for their unity. In fact, just a bit later in this same discourse, Jesus prays that we may all be one, as he is one with the Father.
This setting for Jesus’ words should be a clear reminder to us that striving for unity is and will be hard work.
Jesus prays that his disciples remain in Him. This is only possible through faith, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit. And any and every time that we gather together to pray, we experience this unity. Every time we come together to performs works of charity, we experience this unity.
In Today’s Gospel Jesus instructs that our unity in Him is the source of our fruitfulness. When we are one with Jesus, we find our way to unity with one another, and are then and only then capable of bearing great fruit. In our unity with Christ, we are, in varying degrees, one with all who know and follow Him. In Christ, we can do all things, (Philippians 4:13) and without Christ, we can do nothing. (John 15:5)
When we take this instruction seriously, when we take our unity with Christ seriously, we are more capable of recognizing our unity with all who believe in Jesus Christ. With our Lutheran sisters and brothers today, we pray out of and within the unity that is ours in Jesus Christ. Together, we share a belief in Jesus Christ. We share:
- Faith in Jesus
- Faith In the Word of God – in the Sacred Scriptures
- Faith in the grace that flows through Christ – through the Church
- We share the virtues of faith, hope and love, each of which are rooted in Christ.
In a world where too many are too ready to define others by what divides, we cannot be satisfied with allowing differing opinions to dictate or limit our associations. Jesus was always ready and willing to recognize each person before him, not limiting his love according to who agreed with him, or who followed him. He simply saw the person before him, acknowledged their human need, and allowed his truth and love to speak to their momentary need, but mostly to the eternal desire of the their heart for salvation, which is unity with him.
We gather today to pray and focus on the One who Unites us:
- Jesus Christ – the Son of God
- Jesus Christ – The True Vine of God’s vineyard
- Jesus Christ – The True Vine of God’s Kingdom
Jesus is the Vine in whom each of us is grafted, through whom we are sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.
Because of our common faith in Jesus Christ we are not afraid to come together to pray, to dialogue, to discern together where Christ is leading us for the common good of his family. Christ has promised to accompany us in this life’s journey of faith, and we take this moment to accompany each other as together we walk with Christ.
The Decree on Ecumenism from the Second Vatican Council states:
The faithful should remember that they promote union among Christians better, that indeed they live it better, when they try to live holier lives according to the Gospel. For the closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love. (#7)
Brothers and sisters, let us renew our own commitment to grow in holiness, which is to grow in relationship with Christ. May Christ continue to prune in us what is not fully in Him, that we may be more united to Him as the One True Vine, from whom all blessings flow, and all fruitfulness grows.