The title of this song by the New Seekers seems particularly appropriate for this week; Christian Unity Week of Prayer, Preparation for Pentecost and World Environment Day. The song speaks of a better world somewhere out there, and it continues, “and I’ll be there someday if you will hold my hand.” So it is to be brought about through loving relationships and an intervention which cannot exclude God’s contribution.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a long-established tradition sponsored by the World Council of Churches and also the Catholic Church. Originally, I believe, the focus was on overcoming disunity on theological grounds. The mainline churches Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and others have held many high-level theological discussions. However at the same time dozens of small churches are springing up everywhere, too easily multiplying the disunity in the Body of Christ.
As I have been following the week of prayer in recent times I found themes chosen by Christian churches in different countries of the world on a different basis; their particular, but also universal, needs. The 2019 theme chosen by Indonesia was ““Justice and only justice you shall pursue.” There, as elsewhere, the intention now is for Christians to stand together, pray together and be reconciled.
CHRISTIAN UNITY APPLIED TO FAMILY LIFE. Church documents e.g. THE JOY OF LOVE speak of the importance of family prayer, the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit, devotion to Our Lady etc. But, sadly, in many families in our own country there is no common religious home tradition. From the time of a marriage, which ideally is experienced as a sacramental sign of God’s presence with the couple, is there spiritual unity? Only a few days ago a man shared his story. He is Nigerian and Catholic, married to a South African who attends a local Pentecostal church. Their children go with the grandmother to her church. This is common in our parishes where children often come with grandmothers. A question: “Is it more important to practice one’s faith as a Catholic in isolation, or to have a common practice of a faith life as a domestic church, even one with people of different denominations? Is it either-or or both-and?” All Christians have the Bible in common, so Bible sharing and prayer surely can and should be done at home, in addition to church attendance.
INTERFAITH FAMILIES is another consideration. It is found mainly in countries like Indonesia with a less than 10% Christian and 80%+ Muslim population but in South Africa there are interfaith families too. Recently Christians, including some local Catholics and myself, were invited to participate in a large community Iftar fast-breaking dinner during this month of Ramadan at the beautiful mosque in Midrand. We valued the opportunity for this interfaith experience of hospitality and fellowship. We talked with others about St Francis and his peace-seeking interaction with a Muslim sultan 800 years ago and we are aware that Pope John XXIII may have opened the windows of the Church at the Ecumenical Vatican council in the 1960s but Pope Francis has opened many doors to build relationships with other faiths. (I have learned that we should not be saying non– but rather speak of other religions or faiths.) How can we reciprocate and even share the gift of the Holy Spirit?
Today’s global village presents a challenge to families, with our young people meeting prospective life partners less frequently in church but more often at school, work, university and through sporting or other interests. MARFAM’s theme for June is YOUTH MATTER and the THOUGHTS FOR THE DAY address the topic of religion amongst others. A quotation from Pope Francis taken from CHRISTUS VIVIT, his letter after the Youth Synod. “Room should also be made for all those who have other visions of life, who belong to other religions or who distance themselves from religion altogether. All the young, without exception, are in God’s heart and thus in the Church’s heart. CV235
As we prepare in our churches and homes too for the coming again of the Holy Spirit, the issue of the environment is not only topical on World Environment Day on 5 June but everyday, all day in families. As was suggested a few weeks ago, “what is your family’s carbon footprint?” That is a great topic for family faith and life sharing and prayer, to build up that new world here and now, irrespective of what church you attend. TR FAMILY WEEKLY 5 June 2019
CHRISTIAN UNITY PRAYER. God of Justice, you call us all to a new life in Christ Jesus: strengthen our resolve to serve our communities today by striving through our words and our actions to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God, that all people might rejoice in hope and live in peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.