Every year in January, the Church offers a “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,” which is traditionally celebrated between January 18 and January 25 – the octave of St. Peter and St. Paul. For more than a century it has been celebrated every year by Christians of all Churches and ecclesial communities in order to invoke the extraordinary gift for which Our Lord Jesus himself prayed at the Last Supper, before his Passion: “That they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me”. (John 17:21)
Another word that the Church uses for ‘Christian Unity’ is “Ecumenism,” derived from the Greek word “oikoumene,” meaning “the whole inhabited world.” Ecumenism is the promotion of cooperation and unity among Christians based on the historical context that Jesus Christ founded one Church and, in the midst of his disciples at the Last Supper, prayed, “That they may all be one.” (John 17:21) Faithful to Jesus’ desire, the Catholic Church takes part in an ecumenical movement seeking visible unity among the diversity of Christian Churches and ecclesial communities.
This year’s theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “We Saw His Star in the East” (Matthew 2:2). Each year in January, the Church recalls the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem, highlighting God’s invitation to all of humanity to a new covenant in the Incarnation of Christ. The celebration of the Epiphany is joined to the mystery of the Baptism of Christ, a baptism all Christians hold in common as testimony to their faith in the Son of God. The three Magi are symbolic of the world’s diversity of religions and cultures that come to pay homage to the Christ-child.
Like the Magi, our search for unity in truth and in love must never lose sight of the fact that unity among Christians is the work and gift of the Holy Spirit and goes far beyond our own efforts. Thus, spiritual ecumenism, especially prayer, is at the heart of the ecumenical task (cf. Unitatis redintegratio, n. 8). Yet, ecumenism will not bear lasting fruit unless it is accompanied by concrete actions of conversion that move our consciences and foster the healing of memory and of relationships. As the Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican Council II states, “there can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart” (n. 7).
Christian Unity should bring us to an authentic conversion of heart, like that seen by the Magi and of which the Apostle Paul, who is a significant example of how to bring us ever closer to God in such a way as to bring us also closer to one another. This is a fundamental element of our ecumenical commitment of Christian Unity. This renewal of the interior life of our heart and mind is crucial if we are to begin a dialogue as well as a path of reconciliation with our fellow brothers and sisters of another Christian denominations. This unifying commitment of mutual understanding, respect and love, is what brought the Magi to travel so far and follow, “…His Star in the East”. They were filled with Joy as they encountered the newborn King of Kings, Jesus Christ.
During this week of Prayer for Christian Unity, may we unite our prayers with that of Jesus’ prayer at the last supper, “that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21).
In your prayer for Christian Unity, I offer you a link to daily prayer meditations from The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ~ https://www.usccb.org/committees/ecumenical-interreligious-affairs/week-prayer-christian-unity-2022
—Reflection by Fr. John Poncini