The 54th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity ended today. Pope Francis was not present because of his sciatica, but his homely was read by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. For the pontiff, “We are branches of the same vine, we are ‘communicating vessels’, in the sense that the good or the evil that each of us does affects all others.”
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Second Vespers of the Solemnity of the Conversion of St Paul the Apostle concluded the 54th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity today. In his homily Pope Francis stressed love for one’s brothers, for which we need prayers in order to spend “time with Jesus”. If this is genuine, “we will grow in love for all those who follow Jesus, regardless of the Christian communion to which they may belong, for even though they may not be ‘one of ours’, they are his.”
Card Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, read the text prepared by Francis, who stayed away from the Basilica of St Paul because of his sciatica. Representatives of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities present in Rome attended the service, including young Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox students studying in Rome with the support of the Pontifical Council. Professors and students from the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, who were expected in Rome like in previous years, did not come because of the pandemic and so followed the celebration through the media.
Francis took his inspiration from the theme of the week – “Abide in my love;” it “will bear much fruit (Jn 15:9,5) – in order to stress that “Jesus links this request to the image of the vine and the branches, the final image that he offers us in the Gospels. The Lord himself is the vine, the ‘true’ vine (v. 1), who does not betray our expectations, but remains ever faithful in love, despite our sins and our divisions.”
For the Pope, unity with Jesus is “indispensable” because “The first circle, the innermost, is abiding in Jesus. This is the starting point of the journey of each person towards unity. In today’s fast-paced and complex world, it is easy to lose our compass, pulled as we are from every side. Many people feel internally fragmented, unable to find a fixed point, a stable footing, amid life’s changes. Jesus tells us that the secret of stability is to abide in him.
“He left us his own example: each day he withdrew to pray in deserted places. We need prayer, as we need water, to live. Personal prayer, spending time with Jesus, adoration, these are essential if we are to abide in him.”
“The second circle is that of unity with Christians. We are branches of the same vine, we are ‘communicating vessels’, in the sense that the good or the evil that each of us does affects all others. In the spiritual life, then, there is also a sort of ‘law of dynamics’: to the extent that we abide in God, we draw close to others, and to the extent that we draw close to others, we abide in God. This means that if we pray to God in spirit and truth, then we come to realize our need to love others while, on the other hand, “if we love one another, God abides in us” (1 Jn 4:12).”
“Even so, we know that loving our brothers and sisters is not easy, because their defects and shortcomings immediately become apparent, and past hurts come to mind. Here the Father comes to our aid, for as an expert farmer” takes away and prunes the vine.
“Why? Because in order to love, we need to be stripped of all that leads us astray and makes us withdraw into ourselves and thus fail to bear fruit. Let us ask the Father, then, to prune our prejudices with regard to others, and the worldly attachments that stand in the way of full unity with all his children. Thus purified in love, we will be able to be less concerned about the worldly obstacles and stumbling stones from the past, which nowadays distract us from the Gospel.
“The third circle of unity, the largest, is the whole of humanity.” This is where the Holy Spirit works. [. . .] “In the vine that is Christ, the Spirit is the sap that spreads to all the branches. The Spirit blows where he wills, and everywhere he wants to restore unity. He impels us to love not only those who love us and think as we do, but to love everyone, even as Jesus taught us. He enables us to forgive our enemies and the wrongs we have endured. He inspires us to be active and creative in love. He reminds us that our neighbours are not only those who share our own values and ideas, and that we are called to be neighbours to all, good Samaritans to a humanity that is frail, poor and, in our own time, suffering so greatly. A humanity lying by the roadsides of our world, which God wants to raise up with compassion.
“A tree is known by its fruits: by our gratuitous love it will be known if we are part of the vine of Jesus. / The Holy Spirit thus teaches us the concreteness of love for all those brothers and sisters with whom we share the same humanity, the humanity which Christ inseparably united to himself by telling us that we will always find him in the poor and those in greatest need (cf. Mt 25: 31-45). By serving them together, we will realize once more that we are brothers and sisters, and will grow in unity. The Spirit, who renews the face of the earth, also inspires us to care for our common home, to make bold choices about how we live and consume, for the opposite of fruitfulness is exploitation, and it is shameful for us to waste precious resources of which many others are deprived.”