The thirtieth day of Lent

Tuesday after 5 Lent

When we speak of reconciliation, it would be hypocritical to avoid mention of the scandalous divisions that exist among the Christian churches. Our Lord prayed: "As you Father, 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. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one...." But it was not long after the Resurrection that the first divisions arose and today the Church is a shattered vessel, broken into many pieces, large and small, all of which claim to be the Church, but do so at the same time that they question the validity and orthodoxy of other pieces of the broken vessel. Sadly, this scenario is not only a description of the ancient schisms of the Church catholic or of post-Reformation denominationalism. Increasingly, it is typical of relationships within communions and denominations such as our own Anglican Communion.

There are attitudes that need to be challenged if the Church is going to live up to its vocation to be one. In modern societies which value diversity, there is often a tendency to minimize differences, to speak and behave as if the things that divide the churches are merely differences of opinion on tangential matters. Certainly, in the long history of the Church, there have been controversies over issues that were overblown, over misunderstandings, over political rather than theological concerns. But there have also been divisions over serious doctrinal matters that cannot simply be swept aside in an effort to create the outward appearance of unity without a commitment to mutual understanding and ultimate resolution of real differences.

At the other extreme is the hard-line doctrinaire attitude that refuses to consider other points of view and roundly condemns all positions that differ from it, without any effort towards reconciliation on any level. There is a difference between commitment to the faith as it has been received in a particular tradition and the kind of pharisaical attitude that Jesus so often had to contend with. Dialogue--genuine dialogue--takes place when people are secure enough in their own views that they can listen with respect and openness to the opposing view. Entrenched opposition, which generally leads to condemnation of the opponent, frequently arises out of insecurity and self-doubt, and makes reconciliation virtually impossible.

The healing of a divided Church is not an option. It is the fundamental vocation of the Church. Because of our history, the fulfillment of this vocation requires, first of all, a spirit of penitence. It also requires a willingness to take issues seriously and to engage in the hard work of mutual understanding. Much of the modern ecumenical movement has retreated into joint action on social issues, rather than a movement towards full unity, doctrinally, ecclesiastically, and, most importantly, spiritually. "That they may be one, as we are one": this is a call to full participation in the inner life of God. And that is not an institutional unity, it is a unity of the spirit, in the Spirit.

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind an done mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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