June 15, 2018

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

The root of ecumenical efforts is Jesus’ command to love

Fr. Rick GintherWhat is the root of ecumenism? We know of Jesus’ longing in the Gospel of John:

“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).

Such compelling words! Yet, the root of ecumenism is even deeper. In verse 26, Jesus continues: “I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them” (Jn 17:26).

I believe that the root of ecumenism is Jesus’ command to love.

In Chapter 13 of John’s Gospel, he says:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35).

The love of which Jesus is speaking is not just “friendship.” It is more than human attraction, affection or familiarity. It is “agape” (pronounced uh-GAH-pay).

One of eight words used for “love” in the ancient Greek world, agape speaks of selfless love. Its equal in Hebrew is “hesed,” or faithful love.

These two Old and New Testament verses describe the very reality of God.

1 John 4:8 states: “God is love.”

Psalm 63:4 states: “Your love is finer than life.” What a powerful statement, shocking in its simplicity, and so very profound: God’s love is finer than life itself!

It was Jesus’ who revealed such love: faithful, sacrificial, selfless.

St. Paul, in the great kenotic (emptying) hymn, describes this selfless outpouring: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave … humbling himself … becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8).

Such selfless, faithful love is the focus of why one pursues unity.

To work toward unity requires a sacrificial love, a “costly love,” as John H. Armstrong stresses in his book Costly Love: The Way to True Unity for All the Followers of Jesus.

Agape love is a decision to seek the highest good of the one loved, even if the person is undeserving, according to New Testament scholar Leon Morris.

Agape love is also at the heart of a passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians—which has been read at more than half of the weddings which I have witnessed—which states with stark clarity: “love is patient … kind … not jealous … not self-seeking … never rude … does not brood over wrongs … rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7).

Such behaviors are not emotional responses. They are not reactions. They require intentional decisions to act in a steadfast, faithful manner. They are other‑centered.

Yes, and they are costly.

Unity, said Pope Francis in 2016, is not a destination. It is a journey.

The journey of ecumenism is long. There is much to be healed, much to be forgiven, much to be understood between the many splinters which are the body of Christ.

As in any relationship, the give and take calls for sacrifice, keen attention to the other, and embracing of the truth.

The command to love is before us. Shall we be of like mind with Jesus, who emptied himself? Shall we love the way to unity?

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism. He is also pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis.)

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