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The Bible calls Solomon the wisest man who ever lived. So it seems only fitting to apply to the Church in our own day the solution he offered to mothers in a squabble over a baby.
BY The Editors
The Church devoted a week at the end
of January to prayer for Christian unity. It’s an annual observance that should
remind us just how important ecumenism is. After all, there is no week of
prayer devoted to issues that we personally might consider more urgent: defense
of the family, war, or abortion.
But sometimes Christian unity can
seem like a lofty but abstract goal. Sure, there are different Christian sects.
We know that. It doesn’t bother us much.
That’s where Solomon comes in.
Throughout Christian tradition, the
Church has been regarded as the mother of the people of God. Christ is born in
every generation when the Church baptizes and adds members to the mystical body
of Christ. What’s the attitude of a true mother?
Solomon was confronted by two
mothers who lived in the same house. Both claimed to be the true mother of a
baby, and both refused to allow the other to claim her rights. “Get me a
sword,” said Solomon. “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one woman
and half to the other.”
The First Book of Kings (Chapter 3)
tells what happened: “The woman whose son it was, in the anguish she felt for
it, said to the king, ‘Please, my lord, give her the living child — please do
not kill it!’ The other, however, said, ‘It shall be neither mine nor yours.
“The king then answered, ‘Give the
first one the living child! By no means kill it, for she is the mother.’”
When it comes to Christian unity,
our recent series of articles by Jack Smith and Tim Drake show Pope Benedict
XVI to share the disposition of a Church that is a true mother.
Benedict has said he “is prepared to
do all that is in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism.”
Every pope “has his own style and
brings to ecumenism his own personal conviction and experience,” Bishop Brian
Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity,
told Smith. But Benedict “truly feels the pain of a weakened witness by
Christians before a world urgently in need of divine Truth and love.”
There are two hallmarks of the Holy
Father’s approach to ecumenism.
The first is a focus, in love, on
the truths of the faith. To win unity by compromising the truth would formalize
the divisions in the Church, not end them. That’s why, before he became Pope
Benedict, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger made the differences between Christians
clear in Dominus
As Cardinal Walter Kasper, president
of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, put it, “Love without
truth is dishonest.”
But, he added, “Truth without love
can be cold and repelling.” Pope Benedict is a pope who wrote an encyclical on
love, and so he stresses one truth in particular in ecumenism. Unity among
different groups of Christians “is grounded in the supernatural reality of the
one baptism that makes us all members of the one body of Christ,” the Holy
Father said last at World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany. “Among Christians,
fraternity is not just a vague sentiment; nor is it a sign of indifference to
The second hallmark is the Pope’s
approach to unity is “spiritual ecumenism” with a focus on the Holy Spirit.
“Pope Benedict never fails to remind
us that unity is a gift of the Holy Spirit,” Bishop Farrell said.
“Unity is a gift from God and a
fruit of the work of his Spirit,” the Holy Father said in January. “For this
reason, it is important to pray. The closer we grow to Christ and are
transformed by his love, the closer we will grow to each other.”
Thus, the Church under Benedict is
seeking new ways for Christians to join in prayer for the important gift of
unity — and asking Catholics to include this intention with their regular
Benedict’s sense of urgency was
demonstrated when he announced in his first public message as pope that he
would “work without sparing energies for the reconstitution of the full and
visible unity of all the followers of Christ.”
no wonder he’s so insistent. The consequences of the sin of disunity surround
us: A single Christian Church would be a powerful witness to the truth of the
Gospel, which is that Christ came to form one united body of followers. When
there are countless Christian churches, all claiming to be eq+ually valid, the
Christian project begins to look like a failure and the Gospel looks less
Pope Benedict knows that dividing
the Church is even worse than dividing a baby. And like the mother in the
story, he’ll do anything to stop that from happening.