Resource on Christian unity has long history

By Bishop Donald Bolen

Rabbi Abraham Heschel, in the Jewish midrash tradition, stirs the imagination of his readers in writing: “When God, the Holy One, gets up in the morning, God gathers the angels of heaven around and asks this simple question: ‘Where does my creation need mending today?’ ”

Heschel notes that to be faithful to the covenant is to worry “about what God worries about when God gets up in the morning.”

As Christians, we know that one area that needs mending in our world is the brokenness of the Body of Christ. To be concerned with reconciliation among divided Christians is “to be preoccupied with what God is preoccupied with, to yearn for what God yearns for” (CCCB, A Church in Dialogue, 2014).

The night before Jesus died he prayed for his disciples, lifting them into the Father’s hands, saying, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine,” praying that they remain united in the unity of the Father and the Son and asking that they be protected as he sent them into the world. He then prayed for all future disciples “that they may all be one, . . . so that the world may believe. . . .” (Jn 17: 10 - 21).

A deep faithfulness to the Lord Jesus summons us to pray for and seek the unity of his disciples, not least because our unity is to be a witness to our proclamation of the Gospel.

Because of the intensity of doctrinal conflicts and tensions in the life of the church through the centuries, we often lost sight of the foundational desire of God that we pray and work for reconciliation. More recently, with better relations between Christians, the temptation is to grow accustomed to our divisions and to minimize the damage to our Christian mission caused by our disunity.

A new resource is now available to help us to recover that fundamental desire for unity and to pray, both individually and communally as church, for reconciliation among Christians. Entitled In God’s Reconciling Grace, and distributed freely by the Diocese of Saskatoon, the book is authored and edited by Rev. Bernard de Margerie.

The resource itself has a long history; it grows out of a life. When newly elected Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council in January 1959 and identified the search for Christian unity as one of its goals, something deep stirred in the heart of de Margerie, a newly ordained priest of the Diocese of Saskatoon. Some 55 years later, we rejoice that the stirring de Margerie felt that day went deep and has nourished a priestly life at the service of reconciliation.

In preaching and teaching about Christian unity, in building relations with Christians of diverse Christian communities, in founding the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism and in a persevering commitment to pray for the unity Christ wills, he has been and remains a pioneer who has reminded us that faithfulness to Christ impels us to seek and to pray for reconciliation among Christians.

Through the years, de Margerie came to see the need for a collection of material to assist Christians in praying for unity. The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism (1964) identifies “spiritual ecumenism” — including a change of heart, holiness and prayer for Christian unity — as “the soul of the ecumenical movement.” The Vatican’s Directory for ecumenical engagement (1993) notes that “those who identify deeply with Christ must identify with his prayer, and especially with his prayer for unity.”

Despite those strong urgings of the church, other than the material for the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, there was little to assist Christians in this regard; so the idea of a collection of diverse texts fostering prayer for unity began to take shape within de Margerie. After many years of working on such a collection, he brought together an ecumenical group to assist him in this regard.
The group’s task included sending out a request for funds to assist with the publication of the volume, and donations flowed in. The result is a beautiful 235-page resource which has been sorely needed for a long time. About half the material, including prayers for individual meditation, for parish or congregational usage and for ecumenical gatherings, were composed by de Margerie.

The other half, in his words, has been “gleaned from any number of sources of ecumenical prayer and ecumenical thinking about how to do our part to help heal the divisions in the Body of Christ.” They represent a sort of “denominational treasury of prayer” drawing on the riches and resources of diverse Christian communities.

In the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, we have taken great strides toward reconciliation. Among the steps still needed, perhaps none is more foundational than the conversion of our desires, such that we truly come to yearn for reconciliation. Every effort to foster unity among Christians has its roots in prayer.

This book is like a school for fostering prayer for unity; it will teach us many things in our relations with other Christian communities: how to carry each other’s burdens; how to rejoice in each other’s gifts; how to enter into dialogue and build spiritual bonds of affection between us; and how to learn to walk together as we seek to be led by the Holy Spirit and faithfully follow our crucified and risen Lord.

As I note in the book’s introduction, “May it be a book of blessing, tilling our hearts, changing our vision, planting is us the great dream of God that we be one, and making us artisans of reconciliation in the workshop of the Holy Spirit.”

Bolen is Bishop of Saskatoon.

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