Recognize the Importance of Prayer

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

General Audience July 26, 1995

1. The way of ecumenism is keenly felt to be an obligation by both Catholic believers and by the Christians of other Churches and ecclesial communities. The Second Vatican Council adopted this course of action and in the Decree Unitatis redintegratio, established the principles of a healthy ecumenism. Today I would like to refer to the main points, recalling that they have been set out in great detail together with practical orientations, in the Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms of Ecumenism (Nuova edizione, Vatican City, 1993).

In the face of the divisions which have afflicted the Christian world down the centuries, it is impossible to be passive. Catholics and non-Catholics cannot but suffer acutely when they see their separations, in such contrast with Christ's heartfelt words at the Last Supper (cf. Jn 17:20-23).

Of course, the constitutive unity of the Church desired by her Founder has never been lacking: it has remained unchanged in the Catholic Church, which came into being on the day of Pentecost with the gift of the Spirit to the Apostles, and has stayed faithful to the principles of the doctrinal and community tradition which rests on the foundations of the legitimate Pastors in communion with the Successor of Peter. It is a providential factor in which historical facts are intricately interwoven with theological foundations as a consequence of Christ's will. But it cannot be denied that historically, in the past as in the present, the unity of the Church does not fully show either the vigor or the extension which she could and must achieve in accordance with the requirements of the Gospel.

2. Thus, the fundamental attitude of Christians who have this unity at heart and who are aware of the gap that exists between the unity desired by Christ and what has concretely been achieved, cannot but be to turn their eyes to heaven, to implore God to provide ever new incentives to unity with the Holy Spirit's inspiration. According to the Counci'ls instructions, we should first of all recognize the essential value of prayer for unity. Indeed, this is not reduced to a mere form of harmony or good human relations. Jesus asked the Father for unity among believers modelled on the divine communion in which he and his Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, are "one" (Jn 17:20-21). This is a goal that can only be reached with the help of God's grace. Hence the need for prayer.

Moreover, the daily observation that ecumenical commitment takes place in an area fraught with difficulties makes human inadequacy and the urgent need for trusting recourse to God's omnipotence all the more keenly felt. This is what we express, especially during the Week that is dedicated each year to prayer for Christian unity: it is first and foremost a period of most intense prayer. It is true that this important project also fosters studies, encounters, exchanges of ideas and experiences, but its priority is always prayer.

On many other occasions also, the union of believers is the object of the Church's prayers. Indeed, it should be recalled that at the culminating moment of every Eucharistic celebration, just before communion, the priest addresses the prayer for the Church's unity and peace to the Lord.

3. The other contribution requested from every Christian by the Council is active commitment to unity. In the first place in their thoughts and words: Catholics are urged to make "every effort to avoid expressions, judgments and actions which do not represent the conditions of our separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations with them more difficult" (Unitatis redintegratio, n. 4). While I emphasize this important recommendation, I urge all to overcome their prejudices and to assume an attitude of effective charity and sincere esteem, accentuating the unitive rather than the divisive aspects, taking into account the defense of the whole inheritance handed down by the Apostles.

Furthermore, for better mutual knowledge, it is necessary to cultivate dialogue. If this is undertaken by competent spokesmen (cf. Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, n. 81), it can encourage an increase of mutual esteem and understanding between the different Churches and communions and a "more intensive co-operation in carrying out any duties for the common good" (Unitatis redintegratio, n. 4).

On the basis of dialogue and of every other ecumenical project, there should be loyal and consistent readiness to recognize expressions of grace in our brethren who are not yet in full communion with us. As the Council states: "Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments for our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren" (ibid.). Nevertheless, "in this courageous journey towards unity, the transparency and the prudence of faith require us to avoid both false irenicism and indifference to the Church's ordinances" (Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, n. 79). To discover and to recognize the goodness, the virtue and the yearning for an ever greater grace which are present in the other Churches also serves for our own edification.

4. If it is to be authentic and fruitful, ecumenism demands from the Catholic faithful some basic attitudes. In the first place charity, with a gaze full of compassion and a sincere desire to co-operate, wherever possible, with our brothers and sisters in the other Churches or ecclesial communities; in the second place, fidelity to the Catholic Church while neither disregarding nor denying the visible failings in the conduct of some of their members; in the third place, the spirit of discernment, in order to appreciate what is good and praiseworthy; lastly, a sincere wish for purification and renewal, both through personal commitment oriented to Christian perfection and by contribution "each according to his own station, to play his part, that the Church, which bears in her own body the humility and dying of Jesus (cf. 2 Cor 4:10; Phil 2:5-8), may daily be more purified and renewed, against the day when Christ will present her to himself in all her glory without spot or wrinkle (cf. Eph 5:27)" (Unitatis redintegratio, n. 4).

5. This is not a utopian prospect: it can and must be accomplished day after day, century after century, by person after person, however long history lasts and whatever the variety of its largely unforeseeable events. Ecumenism operates in this perspective. Thus it fits into a context broader than that of the problem of individual membership in the Catholic Church by single persons from other Christian communities whose preparation and reconciliation is not in contradiction to the ecumenical project, since "both proceed from the marvellous ways of God" (ibid.).

Let us therefore conclude this catechesis with the hope and the exhortation that all in the Church may be able to safeguard unity in the essential things and enjoy their proper freedom in research, dialogue, comparison and collaboration with all those who profess Jesus Christ the Lord. May they all always preserve charity, which remains the best expression of the will to perfect the historical expression of the Church's unity and Catholicity.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
2 August  1995, p. 7.

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