“Authentic reconciliation between Christians will only be achieved when we can acknowledge each other’s gifts and learn from one another,” Pope Francis said during an ecumenical evening prayer service that concluded the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on January 25.
During his homily at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the pope reflected on the ongoing effort to rekindle dialogue and unity within the Church.
On the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Francis reminded the faithful that even though the event divided Christians in the past, the fact that Catholics and Lutherans can now commemorate it together is a remarkable achievement. An achievement that was possible only as a result “of fifty years of growing mutual knowledge and ecumenical dialogue.”
The ecumenical evening prayer service also took place on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul the Apostle and the pope took several queues from the life of the Christian-prosecutor turned Saint.
Pope Francis reminded the faithful during his homily that St. Paul’s reconciliation with God on the way to Damascus was a gift from Christ. In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, which inspired the theme of the Week of Prayer: “Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us,” it is Christ’s love for us that acts as a motor of reconciliation.
The pope added that the “reconciliation to which we are compelled” is not “simply our own initiative.” Reconciliation is first and foremost a gift from God and as a result every person “is called in turn to proclaim the Gospel of reconciliation in word and deed, to live and bear witness to a reconciled life.”
Yet, “how do we proclaim this Gospel of reconciliation after centuries of division?” The pope asked. Once again the Apostle of the Gentiles shows us the way.
St. Paul teaches us that reconciliation with Christ requires sacrifice. “Ambassadors of reconciliation are called, in his name, to lay down their lives, to live no more for themselves but for Christ who died and was raised for them,” the pope said.
Pope Francis called Catholics and non-Catholics alike to a sacrifice that is twofold: the first is an invitation to set aside fashions-of-the-moment, plans and advantages and instead to find the path to reconciliation by constantly looking to the Lord’s cross.
The second is forgiveness. Pope Francis warned that “to be fixated on the past, lingering over the memory of wrongs done and endured, and judging in merely human terms, can paralyze us and prevent us from living in the present.”
Only after doing this will the Lord present before our eyes a new future, one where “divisions can be overcome and believers, renewed in love, will be fully and visibly one,” the pope said.
Pope Francis then shared in Jesus’ own prayer to the father that “they may all be as one.”
Christian unity may only be reached if all its members learn from one another “with humility and docility, without waiting for the others to learn first,” the pope added.
Francis told the faithful that this is the sacrifice that we are called to make, “ a dying to ourselves for Jesus’ sake.” Only after we have done this, as St. Paul did leaving his old ways behind and moving on from the past, will we find a path to “a new form of life and fellowship.”
The pope concluded by asking that we never tire of asking God for the gift of reconciliation.
“Let us press forward in our journey of reconciliation and dialogue, encouraged by the heroic witness of our many brothers and sisters, past and present, who were one in suffering for the name of Jesus,” Pope Francis said closing his homily.
The Week Of Prayer for Christian Unity may be over, but hopefully it will have marked a new and important step in the path toward Christian communion and unity.