As we raise our prayers we are confident that we too will be transformed and brought into conformity with the image of Christ. This is particularly true in the prayer for Christian unity. Indeed, when we implore the gift of the unity of Christ’s disciples, we make our own the desire expressed by Jesus Christ on the eve of his Passion and death in the prayer he addressed to the Father: “that they may all be one” (John 17:21). The prayer for Christian unity for this reason is nothing other than participation in the realization of the divine plan for the Church and the active commitment to re-establishing unity is a task and a great responsibility for all.
Although in our day we are experiencing the sorrowful situation of division, we Christians can and must look to the future with hope, since Christ’s victory means surmounting all that prevents us from sharing the fullness of life with him and with others. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ confirms that God’s goodness conquers evil and love conquers death. He accompanies us in the fight against the destructive power of sin that damages humanity and God’s entire creation.
The presence of the Risen Christ calls all of us Christians to act together in the cause of good. United in Christ, we are called to share his mission, which is to bring hope to wherever injustice, hatred and desperation prevail. Our divisions dim our witness to Christ. The goal of full unity, which we await in active hope and for which we pray trustingly, is no secondary victory but an important one for the good of the human family.
In the dominant culture today, the idea of victory is often associated with instant success. In the Christian perspective, on the contrary, victory is a long, and in our human eyes, not always uncomplicated process of transformation and growth in goodness. It happens in accordance with God’s time, not ours, and requires of us deep faith and patient perseverance. Although the Kingdom of God bursts definitively into history with Jesus’ Resurrection, it has not yet come about fully. The final victory will only be won with the Second Coming of the Lord, which we await with patient hope.
Our expectation of the visible unity of the Church must also be patient and trusting. Only in this frame of mind do our prayers and our daily commitment to Christian unity find their full meaning. The attitude of patient waiting does not mean passivity or resignation but rather a prompt and attentive response to every possibility of communion and brotherhood that the Lord gives us.
In this spiritual climate I would like to extend special greetings, first to Cardinal Monterisi, Archpriest of this Basilica, and to the Abbot and the community of Benedictine monks for hosting us. I greet Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and all the co-workers of this Dicastery. I address my cordial and brotherly greetings to His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and to Reverend Canon Richardson, Personal Representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to all the Representatives of the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities gathered here this evening.
In addition, I am particularly glad to greet several members of the Working Group composed of spokespeople of the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities present in Poland, who prepared the booklets for the Week of Prayer this year. I would like to express my gratitude to them and my hope that they will continue on the way of reconciliation and fruitful collaboration. I am also pleased to greet the members of the Global Christian Forum who are in Rome in these days to reflect on increasing the number of participants in the ecumenical movement to include new members. Further, I greet the group of students from the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey of the World Council of Churches.
I would like to entrust to St Paul’s intercession all those who, with their prayers and their commitment, are sparing no effort in the cause of Christian unity. Although, at times, one has the impression that there is still a long way to go to reach the reestablishment of communion and that the road is fraught with obstacles, I invite all to renew their determination to pursue, with courage and generosity, the unity which is God’s will, after the example of St Paul who, in the face of every kind of difficulty always firmly kept his trust in God which led to the fulfilment of his work.
Moreover, on this journey there is no lack of positive signs of rediscovered brotherhood and of a shared sense of responsibility for the great problems that are afflicting our world. All this is a cause of joy and of great hope and must encourage us to continue in our endeavour to reach the final goal all together, knowing that in the Lord our effort is not in vain (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:58). Amen.
Acknowledgment: We thank the Vatican Publisher for allowing us to publish the Homily of Pope Benedict XVI, so that it could be accessed by more people all over the world; as a source of God’s encouragements to all of us.
Extracted from the prophet Nehemiah 8:2-6,8-10:
Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, consisting of men, women, and children old enough to understand. This was the first day of the seventh month. On the square before the Water Gate, in the presence of the men and women, and children old enough to understand, he read from the book from early morning till noon; all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden dais erected for the purpose. In full view of all the people – since he stood higher than all the people – Ezra opened the book; and when he opened it all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people raised their hands and answered, ‘Amen! Amen!’; then they bowed down and, face to the ground, prostrated themselves before the Lord. And Ezra read from the Law of God, translating and giving the sense, so that the people understood what was read.
Then Nehemiah – His Excellency – and Ezra, priest and scribe and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all the people, ‘This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not be mournful, do not weep.’ For the people were all in tears as they listened to the words of the Law.
He then said, ‘Go, eat the fat, drink the sweet wine, and send a portion to the man who has nothing prepared ready. For this day is sacred to our Lord. Do not be sad: the joy of the Lord is your stronghold.’
Extracted from the 1st letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians: 1 Corinthians 12:12-30:
Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ.
In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.
Nor is the body to be identified with any one of its many parts.
If the foot were to say, ‘I am not a hand and so I do not belong to the body’, would that mean that it stopped being part of the body? If the ear were to say, ‘I am not an eye, and so I do not belong to the body’, would that mean that it was not a part of the body? If your whole body was just one eye, how would you hear anything? If it was just one ear, how would you smell anything?
Instead of that, God put all the separate parts into the body on purpose.
If all the parts were the same, how could it be a body? As it is, the parts are many but the body is one. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you’, nor can the head say to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’
What is more, it is precisely the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest which are the indispensable ones; and it is the least honourable parts of the body that we clothe with the greatest care. So our more improper parts get decorated in a way that our more proper parts do not need.
God has arranged the body so that more dignity is given to the parts which are without it, and that there may not be disagreements inside the body, but that each part may be equally concerned for all the others.
If one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it. If one part is given special honour, all parts enjoy it.
Now you together are Christ’s body; but each of you is a different part of it.
In the Church, God has given the first place to apostles, the second to prophets, the third to teachers; after them, miracles, and after them the gift of healing; helpers, good leaders, those with many languages.
Are all of them apostles, or all of them prophets, or all of them teachers? Do they all have the gift of miracles, or all have the gift of healing? Do all speak strange languages, and all interpret them?
2 February 2013