I thirst for Unity by Jean Vanier
The following quotations are from Jean Vanier’s (the founder of L’Arche, a world wide community that looks after the mentally handicapped) in his book “Community and Growth,” published in 1991.
1. Holy Spirit (172-173)
Vatican II announced so clearly that the Holy Spirit is working in all the Churches, not just in the Roman Catholic Church. It seems to me that this teaching is not always put into practice. It remains a theory, a doctrine, a vision. Shouldn’t we all look at the consequences of it? Roman Catholics are often enclosed within their own groups, their own club, their own community. They are not sufficiently alert to see the signs of the Spirit present in other Churches, other communities, or in people of other religions. Yet the Spirit of God is at work there. God is speaking to them; He is revealing Himself there. We must be attentive to others, to notice in them the presence of the Holy Spirit. If we confine ourselves only to the workings of the Spirit in ‘our’ group or in ‘our’ Church, we will miss something; we will be lacking in a gift of the Spirit. Communities have so much to offer to each other. They can offer each other their food, their nourishment.
But of course, in order to really appreciate the Spirit working in the hearts of other communities and Churches, we have to be well rooted in our own; we have to belong. Otherwise we risk living in some confusion, without roots.
St Paul advises:
“Do not restrain the Holy Spirit;
do not despise inspired messages.
Put all things to the test: keep what is good and avoid every kind of evil.”(1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 TEV)
2. I Yearn for Unity (150)
How long will it take for Roman Catholic to understand the depths of their gifts and be confounded in humility, and to open themselves up to others in understanding and love? How long will it take them to recognize the beauty of the Orthodox Church with its sense of the sacred; and the beauty of and gift of the Church of South India and of Protestant Churches, especially with their love of Scriptures, of announcing the Word, and their desire to live in the Holy Spirit? How long will it take them to see the light of truth and the presence of God in so many men and women of other religions?
Yes, I yearn for this day of unity.
3. Each person is called to live and deepen what is essential to their faith in Jesus (197-198)
In the chapels of Mother Teresa’s Sisters there is always a cross on the wall and under one of the arms of the cross are the last words of Jesus ‘I thirst.’ In those communities of L’Arche which are interdenominational, I would to see the words, ‘I thirst for unity.’ Jesus is saying to each one of the members: ‘Are you prepared to suffer for unity? Will you follow me along the road and carry the cross of this pain?’
With all the suffering of a divided Eucharist and of divided churches, we can be nourished by the bread of pain. We know the road is uncharted and painful, but we are walking with Jesus; we are walking towards unity.
However, all of us hate pain. We try to flee from it; we do everything to avoid it. So, time and time again in our communities, the question of intercommunion comes up, sometimes in quite an aggressive way, especially as new assistants arrive. It is not easy to keep walking on the right path, particularly as we do not always receive the necessary encouragement from the clergy in the different Churches. Each priest or minister belongs to a particular church, where they have their own problems; they are not always concerned about an interdenominational community. To whom does such a community belong? Perhaps to all the Churches involved, but only as long as they are yearning for unity as Christ does.
The danger for interdenominational communities is that the people in them begin to see religion and the Churches as a source of division. It is so easy to slip away then from all spiritual values and religious activities, and to put all our energy into leisure activities and community celebrations where we can be united. But such activities are not sufficient for building and sustaining community. L’Arche communities could easily become good group homes and forget they are communities, with all that that implies.
To live ecumenism, each person is called to live and deepen what is essential to their faith in Jesus: to be in communion with the Father and to grow in love for others. But they must live and deepen what is specific to their own Church too. True ecumenism is not the suppression of difference; on the contrary, it is learning to respect and love what is different. The members of the community must then be grounded in their own tradition and love it. It means also that they feel truly called by Jesus to eat the bread of pain in order to further that unity. In such communities each person must be truly nourished spiritually, in order to grow in wholeness and in holiness.
4. Christianity is a relationship with the PERSON OF JESUS
Jean Vanier says, “Christianity is not first of all a theology, a catechism or moral laws, but a relationship with a person, the PERSON OF JESUS.” (The Catholic News, March 3-10,2002)
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1. When a Christian discusses with another Christian, should he cause further division amongst themselves by his unthinking remarks?
Even in St Paul’s time, there were divisions in the Christian communities. Today it is still the same. Isn’t this scandalous? Isn’t this absurd? Is Christ divided, St Paul asked, “Let me put it this way; each one of you says something different. One says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Peter’; and another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Christ has been divided into groups! Was it Paul who died on the cross for you? Were you baptized as Paul’s disciples?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13 TEV) Aren’t we saying the same thing nowadays? I am baptized as a Roman Catholic. I am baptized as an Anglican. I am baptized as a Methodist. Was it the Pope or Martin Luther who died on the cross for us? When Christians quarrel and run down each other, aren’t they doing the same as the Corinthians? As St Paul says “When there is jealousy among you and you quarrel with one another, doesn’t this prove that you belong to this world, living by its standards? When one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ’I follow Apollos’—aren’t you acting like worldly people? After all, who is Apollos? And who is Paul? We are simply God’s servants by whom you were led to believe. Each one of us does the work which the Lord gave him to do.” (1 Corinthians 3:3-5) Today we need to ask the same questions again. Who is the Pope? Who is Martin Luther? Are they not the ones who lead us to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Sometimes Christian groups boast about how right and true their Churches are. Isn’t this the same thing that St Paul says? “For what the world considers to be wisdom is nonsense in God’s sight. As the Scripture says, ’God traps the wise in their cleverness’ and another Scripture says, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise is worthless.’ No one, then, should boast about what human beings can do. Actually everything belongs to you. Paul, Apollos, and Peter; this world, life and death, the present and the future—all these are yours and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” (1 Corinthians 3:19-23) Upon reflection on these passages in the Bible, don’t all baptized Christians belong to Jesus Christ and not to the Pope or Martin Luther? Therefore Christians should concentrate on their personal relationship with Jesus Christ instead of boasting about the rightness of their own Churches.
2. Diversity in One Body
St Paul says, “Do not think of yourselves more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking, and judge yourself according to the amount of faith that God has given you. We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body. So we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us. If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have. If it is to serve, we should serve; if it is to teach, we should teach; if it is to encourage others, we should do so. Whoever shares with others, should do it generously; whoever has authority should work hard, whoever shows kindness to others should do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:3-8 TEV)Shouldn’t we think along the same line, that we are one body in union with Jesus? Shouldn’t we ask Jesus to help us to learn to respect and love our differences?
3. Diversity of Ministries
Again St Paul emphasizes the diversities of ministries, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body; whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 12 & 13 NKJV) Shouldn’t all our focus be on love as St Paul said, instead on whose Church is right or better?