January 29, 2021

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Relation building among faiths creates Christian unity

Fr. Rick Ginther The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity concluded on Jan. 25. Our annual prayer service—which was recorded this year because of the pandemic—celebrated the theme “Abide in my love.”

To abide in love. A challenge in Jesus’ time. And our own.

To abide. To fulfill the very truth of Jesus in the Gospel of John: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).

Dwelt, literally, “pitched his tent” among us, as the tabernacle of the Lord was “tented” (Ex 25:8-9) among God’s people.

By Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection, all Christians are called to love as he did. It is to be an “abiding love,” a love of and for oneness.

My Christian brothers and sisters of the Center for Interfaith Cooperation (CIC) have taken up this challenge. To be sure, they are committed to interreligious dialogue. But recently, they embraced an invitation to “digital dialogue.”

The idea sprang from a conversation during the December meeting of the advisory board of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs. Two members of that board also sit on the CIC board.

The advisory board had been discussing how, after COVID-19, we can help and encourage Catholics to begin a relationship with a person of another Christian denomination. We had each begun such a relationship.

The two CIC members realized that for all the work they do for interfaith cooperation, the Christians on that board did not know each other’s faith journeys well. Nor did they know why each was so dedicated to the work of interfaith cooperation.

Members of both boards were invited to begin a digital dialogue. Days before the annual Week of Prayer, we met virtually. One’s faith journey was the focus. We shared.

The Disciples of Christ have a bedrock principle of seeking unity, stated a member.

A Catholic with a Lebanese background in the Melkite Catholic Church spoke of his experience with his Arabic-speaking grandfather’s journey of faith and traditions.

Another spoke of his upbringing in the Assemblies of God faith. Through a search among other Christian expressions, he finally embraced Presbyterianism.

A member of the United Church of Christ noted that his church is a merger of the Brethren and Evangelical churches in the mid-20th century.

Yet another spoke to his family roots—one parent Lutheran, the other Catholic—and his journey each weekend to both churches for worship, instruction and inspiration. This allowed for an openness in college to the diversity of religions encountered. His commitment to dialogue and unity expanded.

And another spoke of encountering in his life so many people seeking the divine. He found in that a truth: diversity is a part of unity.

One came from a secular family with no religious ties. But life brought experiences from Coptic to Baptist traditions, and eventually the embracing of the Episcopal church.

I noted my family history: both Christian and Catholic. Generationally, it was made clear that people of faith were to be respected. Prayer together in Christ was acceptable. Virtue was to help overcome bigotry.

We will meet again soon. Each will have prayed the eight days of the Octave for Christian Unity reflection. We promised to do this, that we might “abide in love.” We hope to dwell upon what emerged in our personal prayer.

May such relation building make us better ministers of Christ, of Christian unity, and of interfaith dialogue.

And if this example inspires you to abide so in love, then we have done what we are called in Christ to do.

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

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