January 2012 - Vol. 56
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity • January 18-25, 2012
pilgrims on Good Friday enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem
The Way to Conversion and Unity
When people want to start a pilgrimage, they need to first establish the destination, just as people who want to shoot an arrow need to know what their target is. We would like to make a kind of pilgrimage toward unity at this time, but we must first understand what kind of unity we are seeking.
In Acts of the Apostles we read:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42–48)Ecumenism from the ground up
This text describes the kind of unity for which we aim. There are various kinds of unity between Christians. There is a doctrinal unity, which official ecumenism is actively pursuing through dialogues and meetings on various levels today in the Church. However, this vertical kind of ecumenism is not enough; it needs to be accompanied by what Paul VI called an ecumenism from the ground up….
The reality is what we hear described in the Acts of the Apostles at the end of the account of Pentecost: People lived together in simplicity and joy, sharing everything. People came from different strata of society, and yet they were sharing meals and praying together.
Only a few days before they were profoundly different, and each person may have had many things about which to reproach one another. Among those who lived together now there were also some who had crucified the Lord but had recently converted. Executioners and victims, sinners and righteous, now find themselves reconciled. It is a miracle of the Spirit….
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. [Acts 2:5-6]
We need to see what really happened at Babel in order to fully understand Pentecost. When the builders were ready to erect the tower, they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (see Genesis 11:4).
“Let us make a name for ourselves!”—this was the sin. The men of Babel were not atheists who wanted to scorn heaven. No, they were devout religious men like all the men of antiquity. … They wanted to erect a temple to God but not for God; they wanted to make a name for themselves, not for God. They were using God.
Pentecost by El Greco, 17th century
At Pentecost, instead, everyone understood each other because they had forgotten about themselves. The apostles did not want to make a name for themselves but for God. They were no longer discussing among themselves who the greatest was. They were turned upside down by the Holy Spirit, dazzled by the glory of God. Everyone understood them because they did not speak about themselves but about “God’s great deeds.”
What unites us
is greater than what divides us
Pope John Paul II, in his letter Tertio Millenio Adveniente about preparing for the third millennium, affirms that Christians of all denominations need to “come together.”4 What unites us is far more than what divides us. Let us come together, then, around the thing par excellence that unites us: the Lord Jesus...
…Our evangelization should be Pentecostal: It should cause heartstrings to vibrate. In the place where the towers of Babel were first erected and people wanted to make a name for themselves, those towers are demolished and every one’s name is forgotten. Let us, therefore, lift up the name that is above all names and proclaim Paul’s words,
“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (see Romans 10:9).[This article is excerpted from the book, Sober Intoxication of the Spirit: Filled With the Fullness of God, Chapter 7, © 2005 Raniero Cantalamessa, and published by Servant Books, an imprint of Saint Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. English translation is by Marsha Daigle-Williamson. Used with permission. The book can be ordered online at: http://catalog.americancatholic.org/]
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap. (born July 22, 1934) is an Italian Catholic priest in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. He has served as the Preacher to the Papal Household since 1980, under both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Cantalamessa, a frequent speaker, is a member of the Catholic Delegation for the Dialogue with the Pentecostal Churches. He currently hosts a weekly program on Radiotelevisione Italiana.
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