A well-kept secret for Christian unity

 Bishop William F. Medley

We often speak of some very good things as “well-kept secrets,” meaning some things very positively notable are not well known or observed at all. Perhaps we might even say the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness is too often a well-kept secret.

This month I want to speak of an annual observance of the Christian family that qualifies as a well-kept secret. For over 100 years the Catholic Church has collaborated with multiple other Christian denominations to pray in a most intentional way for the unity of Christ’s followers. This is observed every year from January 18-25 as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The root of this observance and longing is to be found in the final discourse of Jesus to his apostles on the night before he died. He prayed, “May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.” (John 17:21)

Clearly Jesus was praying for his chosen apostles and recognizing the scandalous disunity even these 12 had shown at times when they argued over who would be first in the Kingdom of God, who might sit at Jesus’ side when he came into his throne. The evangelist St. John positions this prayer just before Jesus’ arrest when the betrayal of Judas was complete and then the remaining apostles scattered. This prayer foreshadowed the scandal that followers of Jesus would continue by their arguments and fragmenting even unto our own day.

There are wonderful examples of Christians praying together and working together, most especially when we join resources to serve the poor. But we can persist in pettiness and even bigotry at times. Though what the followers of Jesus have in common is far vaster than our differences, human beings too often focus on what divides rather than what unites us.

So, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a well-kept secret. In many communities sister churches do take this time to come together in prayer and sometimes in special projects.

We have just in the past month observed the first anniversary of the storm that ravaged western Kentucky leaving 81 people dead and hundreds homeless. In responding to the crisis, our differences as Christians seemed to evaporate.  As representatives of many churches and organizations from many places sent people and resources to assist no one asked, “Are you Catholic or Baptist or Methodist?” No one asked, “Are you a Republican or a Democrat?” No one asked who you voted for in the last election. We asked, “How can we help?”

For at least a little while in a time of tragedy and disaster, followers of Jesus understood Our Lord’s prayer “that all may be one.”

Let us pray that this lesson learned in trial may teach us to be one.

Sincerely in Christ,

Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro

Originally printed in the January 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
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