"BEHOLD, I STAND AT THE DOOR AND KNOCK"
Pope John Paul II
General Audience, 17 January 1996
1. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches" (Rv 3:22). This invitation doses the last of the letters to the seven Churches of which the Revelation to John speaks. Thus what is said here to the Church of Laodicea is extended to all the others and, we might add, to the Churches of every time and place: therefore to us in our time as well.
The text describes in particular the situation of the believers who lived in Laodicea towards the end of the first century: "I know your works", says the Lord, "you are neither hot nor cold". After their first fervour, they are now living in an atmosphere of tepidity and religious indifference. They have adopted attitudes of self-sufficiency and pride: "For you say, I am rich ... and I need nothing" (Rv 3:17).
What is worse is that they are not aware of their sad plight. Blind, they no longer perceive their wretchedness. This is why the invitation to acquire "white garments", like those worn to receive Baptism and which symbolize purification and new life, is clearly addressed to them.
The letter advises them to ask and obtain from the Lord himself "salve to anoint [their] eyes, that [they] may see" the dangerous situation clearly, and that the people may return to serving the Gospel with renewed enthusiasm (cf. Rv 3:18). These words are a strong call to conversion and renewal of life. To stress the call's urgency, it is stated: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock". God himself takes the initiative, he comes and is already at the door. He knocks. He wants to be in communion with the master of the house, shut up in his home. "If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rv 3:20).
Catholic principles of ecumenism will guide us
2. In the imminence of the third millennium and the celebration of the 2,000 years since the historical coming of Jesus Christ for which we are preparing, the Joint Committee which every year proposes material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, chose the passage from Revelation just proclaimed to inspire a common reflection for 1996. The text seeks to arouse people from a certain indifferentism, from an attitude of self-sufficiency, and to call them to conversion of life, to vigilance and to the need for communion. It has been appropriately remarked that, listening to the words about sharing a meal, Christians cannot but think with understandable bitterness of their separate Eucharists. Indeed, this is the gravest sign of the division among Christians. The ecumenical movement's initiatives: prayer, study, dialogue, collaboration aim at overcoming these divisions, they are all directed to one end: to be able at last to celebrate the Lord's Supper together, reconciled and in full communion. How important it is then to persevere in prayer!
Indeed prayer both expresses and nourishes the hope of full communion in faith, in life and in bearing witness together to the Gospel of Jesus during the third Christian millennium. It is the true source of the quest for full unity.
3. In May last year, I published the Encyclical <Ut unum sint> to encourage the Catholic Church's ecumenical commitment and to facilitate reflection with other Christians on issues yet to be resolved. In this way I wished once again to present the Catholic principles of ecumenical commitment, re-examined in the light of the broad positive experience of the past 30 years of contact and dialogue. These principles continue to be a sure guide on the way which remains to be covered before we reach the blessed day of full communion.
In the last analysis, the numerous inter-confessional dialogues taking place all aim, directly or indirectly, at overcoming existing differences and re-establishing the full unity of all believers in Christ. Christians now have a greater awareness of the elements of faith they have in common.
4. Dialogue with the Orthodox Churches has achieved significant convergence in expressing the sacramental conception of the Church. This should now make it possible to solve the obvious anomaly of partial communion. With this in view and to facilitate ongoing dialogue, I suggested a more thorough analysis of the Bishop of Rome's primacy. We all know that this issue is a major obstacle to restoring full unity between Catholics and Orthodox. For this reason I encouraged all to seek "together, of course, the forms in which this ministry [the ministry of the Bishop of Rome] may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned" (<Ut unum sint>, n. 95).
As regards the ancient Churches of the East and the Assyrian Church, I have had the joy of signing declarations of common faith with several of their Patriarchs. These are important texts which at long last enable us to clarify and overcome the Christological controversy. We can now profess together our faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.
Dialogue takes different forms with the World Christian Communions stemming from the Reformation. It is nonetheless marked by deep commitment. As I had the opportunity to observe in the Encyclical: "This dialogue has been and continues to be fruitful and full of promise.... As a result, unexpected possibilities for resolving these questions have come to light, while at the same time there has been a realization that certain questions need to be studied more deeply" (<Ut unum sint>, n. 69).
5. Thus the dialogue continues and we all follow it with confident prayer. Today I would like to thank all those who are committed to it, pastors and theologians, because they are carrying out an authentic evangelical task: they are working for the peace and harmony of spirits in the Christian community.
Christian unity transcends human powers and gifts
It sometimes happens that ancient difficulties return again or that new problems emerge, thereby slowing the ecumenical journey. But the Lord invites us to persevere in our search, in obedience to his will. The Second Vatican Council spoke of its awareness that the holy objective of reconciling all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ "transcends human powers and gifts". It therefore "places its hope entirely in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us and in the power of the Holy Spirit" (<Unitatis redintegratio>, n. 24). This is exactly why we can be sure that our faith and hope will not be disappointed.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which starts tomorrow, gives us the opportunity to intensify our prayer, joined with our daily sufferings and efforts for this intention. May everyone's contribution hasten the day when the Redeemer's desire will be fulfilled: <Ut unum sint>. May the motherly intercession of Mary, Virgin of Hope and Queen of Peace, obtain this for us.
Weekly Edition in English
24 January 1996, p. 11.
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