Last evening I gathered with brothers and sisters from other Christian denominations to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The following is the homily I offered during the ecumenical service of prayer:Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
This evening's celebration is a moment of blessing and opportunity. Blessing, because we have assembled in the unity we share as fellow disciples, brothers and sisters by Baptism in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Christ himself promised that, wherever two or three gather in his name he will be there among them. He, the mediator of all divine blessing, is here. Opportunity, because this moment in history affords us the occasion to give thanks to God for all that has been accomplished in recent times in the service of healing the divisions that have marked our common life for centuries, and to implore our Lord to give us the grace and light necessary to impel us toward the full recovery of the unity for which he gave his life and to which he summons us.
As we commit this evening to continue to walk the path toward unity, the direction given to us by the Lord is clear and sobering: "Apart from me you can do nothing." As he himself teaches, his Word purifies, and we thus are called upon to ask the Lord to cleanse us by his Word of any self-reliance that stands as an obstacle to the full working of divine healing grace in and through us. Since we are nothing apart from Christ, what is required is a mutual abiding: "Abide in me as I abide in you." (Jn 15:4).
Is this something we can embrace together? We understand well the necessity of mutual abiding in the life of the individual believer and in that of our respective ecclesial communities. How might we respond to this call of the Lord ecumenically? The key, it seems to me, is offered by St. Paul, when he counsels Christians to let the Word of God dwell richly within us, that is to say, to abide in us (Col 3:16). This moment in history contains within it a call to embrace a common commitment to enter the mystery of mutual abiding by allowing the Word of God itself to dwell more deeply within us, the Word in its power to heal, transform and unify.
This strikes me as an urgent duty. Modern communication modalities present us with a dizzying multiplicity of voices bombarding us minute by minute and competing for our attention. Many offer falsehoods that seduce us away from the love of God and from fidelity to Him. In so doing they exert an extraordinarily powerful centrifugal force that creates division and fracture in our hearts and minds, in our homes, in our communities and in our churches. When we read Holy Scripture, however, the effect is the opposite. As we ponder the sacred text, God draws near and speaks. His Word is alive; in it we actually encounter the God who has become one of us in Jesus. When we allow His Word to take root in us, our lives find their true horizon and clear direction. To live apart from that Word is to wander in darkness. His Word is the clear light that guides our steps (Psalm 119: 105); it is the sure compass that helps us navigate the paths of our earthly journey towards eternal life. By pruning away infidelity, it heals division and draws to unity.
Of course, allowing the Word of God to abide in us is enormously challenging. We experience this deeply today as the call of the divine Word meets the siren songs of modernity. Jesus summons us to obedience to the will of God. In our culture of presumed radical autonomy, the call to surrender my desires to the will of God is a summons very hard to accept. God's Word makes clear that the Christian is one who places others before self, who empties oneself for the sake of God and of others, just as Jesus emptied himself, even to the point of death on the Cross. But if we fall in with our culture of self-absorption, the call to self-gift can seem impossible to answer. The Bible echoes throughout its entirety with the call of God to turn away from sin and embrace virtue. Yet much of the messaging we receive in the various forms of media presents as virtue what is in reality vice, so putting this Word of God into practice will often require a serious re-orientation of thought.
It is precisely this renewal of mind, or what we more often speak of as conversion of life, that is required of each of us by the Word of God, an imperative that each of us who seeks to walk the path of ever deeper unity must embrace. Apart from Christ, our unaided efforts to achieve unity in the Church will prove fruitless. Real hope for true unity arises from our abiding in Him, allowing His Word to dwell within us, challenge us, heal us, and fashion us as authentic faithful disciples.