Let us Pray for Christian Unity
Day 8 - Generosity: Receiving and giving
“The father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him.After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. They bestowed many honours on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed”.
This story is full of giving and receiving: Paul received unusual kindness from the islanders; Paul gives healing to the father of Publius and others; having lost everything in the storm, the 276 receive abundant provisions as they set sail. As Christians we are called to unusual kindness. But in order to give we must first learn to receive – from Christ and from others. More often than we realize, we are recipients of acts of kindness from people who are different from us. These acts also point towards the generosity and healing of our Lord. We who have been healed by the Lord are responsible for passing on that which we have received.
Day 7 - Conversion: Changing our hearts and minds
“Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.’He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.”
The locals realized that their judgment of Paul as a murderer was wrong, so they changed their minds. The extraordinary event with the viper enables the islanders to see things in a new way, a way which might prepare them to hear the message of Christ through Paul. In our search for Christian unity and reconciliation we are often challenged to rethink how we perceive other traditions and cultures. This demands an ongoing conversion to Christ in which the churches learn to overcome their perception of the other as a threat. As a result, our pejorative views of others will be cast away, and we will be drawn closer to unity.
Day 6 - Hospitality: Show unusual kindness
Acts 28: 1-2, 7
“After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us round it… Now in the neighbourhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days.”
After the traumas and conflicts of the storm at sea, the practical care offered by the islanders is experienced as an unusual kindness by those washed up on the shores. Such kindness demonstrates our common humanity. The Gospel teaches us that when we care for those in distress we are showing love to Christ himself (cf. Matthew 25:40). Furthermore, when we show loving kindness to the weak and dispossessed we are attuning our hearts to the heart of God in which the poor have a special place. Welcoming outsiders, whether they be people of other cultures or beliefs, immigrants or refugees, is both to love Christ himself, and to love as God loves. As Christians, we are called to step out in faith and reach out with God’s all-embracing love, even to those we find difficult to love.
Day 5 - Strength: Breaking bread for the journey
“Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.’After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.”
Paul’s invitation to eat is an exhortation to those in the boat to strengthen themselves for what lies ahead. This taking of bread marks a change of attitude, as those in the boat move from despair to courage. In a similar way the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper provides us with food for the journey and re-orientates us to life in God. We are made strong. The breaking of the bread – at the core of Christian community life and worship – builds us up as we commit ourselves to Christian service. We long for the day when all Christians will be able to share at the same table of the Lord’s Supper and draw strength from one bread and one cup.
Day 4 - Trust: Do not be afraid, believe
“For the last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we will have to run aground on some island.”
In the midst of the tempest Paul’s encouragement and hope contradicted the fear and despair of his fellow travellers. Our common call to be disciples of Jesus Christ entails being a sign of contradiction. In a world riven with anxieties, we are called to stand as witnesses to hope by placing our trust in God’s loving providence. Christian experience shows us that God writes straight on crooked lines, and we know, against all odds, we will not drown or be lost. Because God’s steadfast love endures for ever.
Day 3 - Hope: Paul’s message
“I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship… none of you will lose a hair from your heads…”
As Christians belonging to churches and traditions that are not fully reconciled to one another, we are often discouraged by the lack of progress towards visible unity. Indeed, some have given up all hope and see this unity as an unattainable ideal. Others do noteven see unity as a necessary part of their Christian faith. As we pray for this gift of visible unity, let us do so with steadfast faith, enduring patience and expectant hope, trusting in God’s loving providence. Unity is the Lord’s prayer for the Church and he is accompanying us on this journey. We will not be lost.
Day 2 - Enlightenment: Seeking and showing forth Christ’s light
Christ is our light and our guide. Without the light and guidance of Christ, we become disorientated. When Christians lose sight of Christ, they grow fearfuland divided from one another. Moreover many people of good will outside the Church are unable to see the light of Christ because in our Christian division we reflect Christ’s light less clearly or, at times, block it out completely. As we seek the light of Christ, we are drawn closer to one another, and so mirror this light more clearly, becoming truly a sign of Christ, the light of the world.
Day 1 - Reconciliation: Throwing the cargo overboard
Acts 27:18-19, 21
“We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle overboard… Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul thenstood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss’.”
As Christians from different Churches and Traditions, we have unfortunately, over the centuries, accumulated abundantbaggage consisting of mutual distrust, bitterness and suspicion. We thank the Lord for the birth and the growth of the ecumenical movement over the past century. Our encounter with Christians from other traditions and our common prayer forChristian unity encourage us to seek mutual forgiveness, reconciliation and acceptance. We must not allow the baggage of our past to hinder us from drawing closer to one another. It is the Lord’s will that we let go, in order to let God!