The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Adrienne von Speyr
Publisher:Saint John Publications
Translator:Community of Saint John
The creation narrative recounts that God the Father creates the universe in seven days. It also tells us that the Holy Spirit broods over the waters. Thanks to this creative act, the world is a unity: It goes forth from the place where God is, which is one, and comes from his hand, which is also one. By itself, the narrative does not yet suffice for a detailed picture of the scope and content of this world; the point of the entire story is to manifest the act of creating and the unity that results from, and abides on account of, the world’s passive creation. The world keeps an ongoing connection with God, who speaks to the first man and leaves him dominion over things. The cosmos, its plants, and its animals are subject to man; their subjection depends on God’s word and thus embodies order. Man is subject to God in a clear, one-way line of obedience. Yet just as all things take their origin from the Father, they are all created for the Son. This sonward line is in no way opposed to the line going from Adam to the Father and from things to man. Rather, all the lines join up to form a perfect unity. All of them fit into the unity planned and realized by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
When the Son appears on earth, he institutes a new order. Man having turned away from God, disorder reigned throughout the world, and unity lay everywhere in ruins. The Son, then, creates a new unity in himself, in his body, in his dying and rising. And to enable man to recognize his intended order more clearly, he creates the Church with its laws, but also—and this is the primary aspect—as an expression of his love, as a clearly visible unity that will hold sway in her and her life in subordination to the Son. For the Church is his Bride, and between them is a living contact, a pure exchange of divine and ecclesial love, a perpetual mutual adaptation.
Even in the New Testament, however, people try to turn away from the Church, from the Lord, in all sorts of ways. True, the Church remains perfectly intact in her substance, just as the Lord himself abides unchanged in his glory. Nevertheless, disorder grows in the world. Indeed, the very fact of her untouched purity, the very unity holding her together, obliges the Church to try boldly to bring back home what the Lord has entrusted to her: the whole world. The world, no longer in the phase of creation, but in the phase of redemption. A world that finds itself called homeward by the Lord’s suffering, but also by his prayer and by the prayer in unity imparted to, and stewarded by, the Church. This homeward call is not merely theoretical; it is experienced practically, and every prayer uttered by a believer actively and efficaciously calls back to unity, seeks the Father’s will, subordinates itself to the Son’s wishes, and catches sight of these same wishes within the Church.
Since, however, man soon grows weary and becomes unsure in his prayer—he talks, of course, but he often doesn’t bother to give his flow of words any substantive meaning—the Church exhorts to renewed prayer and sets aside the same span of time used by the Father to create (a week plus the divine day of rest) for bringing back a world split apart in unbelief. It’s a duty incumbent on every Christian to pray for unity during this week. Before he begins, he can bring the world’s extreme fragmentation before his mind. Picturing the globe, he can contemplate the innumerable places where evangelization has either been poor or non-existent, the vast territories that have fallen away from the Church, and the universal seepage of unbelief into the heart of the faith. Or, if he is feeling bold, he can peer into the Church itself. He can turn his gaze to the faithful, many of whom pray empty prayers, no longer know anything about unity, and have forgotten their calling. Faced with this spectacle, he will begin to pray. From outside to inside, or from inside to outside. The new unity, though, is neither something abstract (a mere unity of intention) nor something merely quantitative (a certain number of buildings or parishes). No, it is alive, it is the Son’s unity with his Bride, patterned on the unity of the triune God. This unity has room enough for every human being with his unique personality, his freedom, and his talents. It holds open a space in which everyone can know the promise of forgiveness and new life, but also a space in which everyone has the obligation to prayer. The core of this duty is joy, for the duty is an efficacious one. And, who knows, perhaps it’s in this week of prayer for Christian unity that everyone who prays will sense the essential role of prayer in the treasure of the Church. Perhaps this week is when everyone will realize that God uses our prayer where he pleases, that non-believing people and lands are not excluded from his concern, and that, even now, pagans, Jews, and schismatics are perhaps being reawakened to the faith. Today through the prayer offered today. Or maybe tomorrow, or in some distant future, through the same prayer offered today.
Every form of prayer, moreover, is acceptable to God, so long as it is offered in the right spirit. God can answer every prayer as a real contribution to unity. He turns his ear to the daily Our Father and Hail Mary, just as he listens to every other prayer in which a believer tries to express and circumscribe what he would like to bring back home. The establishment of a week of prayer finds its primary justification in the Lord’s High Priestly Prayer, which is all about unity. Christ’s words have lost none of their relevance, and the world needs to be brought back home more urgently than ever before. And when we get even a distant sense of just how one the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are in God, we can also get a sense of just how one the world could be—if it would convert to new life and faith through the prayer of the Son in which our own fragile, inadequate prayer participates. Participates with the simplicity of the believing heart that has been privileged to receive unity as the supreme gift and in this gift can ask for, and welcome, new brothers everywhere in the world, so that the world may be one with the Church as the Church is one with the Son and the Son is one with the Father in the Holy Spirit.