February/March 2018 - Vol. 96

                  photo by Edwin Andrage at Uplash-com
From the Very Beginning Our Brotherhood
Has Been Passionate for Unity
by Br. Joe Donovan

One Saturday morning, we brothers were celebrating the end of another blessed semester at Rutgers University with breakfast at a favorite diner near New Brunswick. Not long after we sat down a group of about fifteen African-American men began to arrive.

They greeted each other with warm, manly affection and took up the tables in the center of the diner. When their meals arrived they stood up, held hands, and prayed a blessing. It was a very compelling witness of Christian brotherhood and unity.

 Toward the end of their meal I approached them and introduced myself. Instantly I was welcomed into that same bond of unity with the same brotherly embrace they showed to one another.

They even invited all of us to attend their men’s fellowship at First Baptist Lincoln Gardens. When some of us showed up the following Monday, there too we were welcomed unconditionally as brothers in Christ. It was a startling example of what Jesus intended when he prayed on the night before he died: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in
me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn 17:20-21).

Later, St. Paul would exhort the Ephesian Christians to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3), yet through the succeeding centuries the Church has found itself struggling to “keep the unity of the Spirit.” This year we recall the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the challenge to the Church led by Martin Luther to reform some of its corrupt practices which he felt gave a counter-witness to the grace of faith offered by Jesus. On this anniversary we thought it fitting to highlight how our community has responded to the division.

From our foundation, we Brothers have made repairing unity among our Christian brothers and sisters a central part of our evangelistic mission. Our Ideal states: “As Catholics we know we belong to an even larger body of Christian brothers and sisters and are committed to the spread of the Kingdom.” Jesus makes Christian unity a condition by which the world can come to faith—“that the world may believe that you sent me”—therefore we believe that fostering Christian unity is an indispensable part of proclaiming the Gospel.

These ecumenical endeavors have taken many forms. In the “Bible-belt” of Tallahassee, Br. Jude Lasota spearheaded efforts to meet regularly with several local Protestant pastors. This effort gained their respect to the point of being welcomed into the pastor’s fellowship. He was even invited to preach at some of their churches!

Amongst the Orthodox, whom Catholics share so much in common, we Brothers have built many friendships with both celibate and married clergy, and have found moments when we can invite each other to minister to our respective congregations.

This work for unity, however, is most clearly demonstrated in our campus missions. We try to use every opportunity to work together with our Christian sisters and brothers to proclaim Christ and to witness together, in unity, to his love and power. From service projects to prayer events and monthly gatherings of Christian chaplains, we take Jesus’ desire seriously.

For example, eight years ago the Catholic Student Association at Northeastern University began teaming with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Baptist Student Union to host a Christian response to the school’s annual Sex Week. This was a moment when we could together proclaim a clear message about God’s design for human sexuality to the students. At Rutgers University, Christian chaplains meet together monthly to witness about God’s work in our outreaches and to pray for each other. On many of the campuses the student groups join together for moments of prayer: whether it be times of intercession, the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, or praise and worship nights. But aside from these programs, one enduring fruit is the friendships which have emerged from our collaborations, both amongst the chaplains and amongst the students we serve.

Our prayer is that all Christians make time and find ways to respond to this dying wish of the Lord Jesus. Maybe it will happen with a chance encounter at a diner, but however it happens, may it bear the fruit of unity for which Jesus prayed.

[This article is
from the Spring 2017 Brotherhood of Hope Newsletter.]

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