SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Acts 22:30; 23:6-11; John 17:20-26 ]
We all seek unity and love. Regardless whether we are believers or not, it is in the human DNA to desire peace, love and unity. This is the deepest quest of every human person. We are created in the image and likeness of God and thus no man can find rest until he finds true love and peace. The Church, as the Sacrament of Christ, has the task of leading all peoples to unity because we are all the children of God. This is what the Lord prayed at the end of His life. He said, “Holy Father, I pray not only for these, but for those also who through their words will believe in me. May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.”
How is this best done? Lasting unity and love must be founded on truth. The deception of the world today is that although everyone desires love, not all desire to be truthful in love. We are quite satisfied with a disguised form of love. Many in the world confuse sex with love. Many seek casual sex, believing that what they are getting is love. What they are really seeking is intimate relationships; not just physical but emotional, intellectual and even spiritual union. Again, those who are not capable of handling relationships substitute relationships with things. Instead of spending time with their children to bond, parents give them money and things to replace their absence and their incapacity to feel with and for them.
What is this truth if not faith in God, the Ultimate Reality? Which God, or which religion, can bring us to encounter this absolute truth? All religions claim to have the truth. Today, it is politically incorrect to deny the claims of other religions to having the truth. However, that does not prevent us from saying that Christ is the fullness of truth and that Christianity possesses the fullness of truth. Whether others agree with us or not is their prerogative, but anyone can certainly claim that his or her religion offers the fullness of truth.
So it is not true, as some claim, that proclaiming Christ in Asia as the unique saviour of the world sounds triumphalistic to other religions, and that by so doing we are creating competition and even hostility. But not to do so would also be wrong, because it would mean that we are forced to pretend to believe what we do not. That would be hypocrisy! To believe that Jesus is the Universal Saviour and our Lord and yet not say so would be to live a lie. By suggesting to others that we believe in the same thing would make us fall into irenicism, a false compromise. In so doing we do a disservice to inter-religious dialogue by misleading others in the nature of our real beliefs. Indeed, all followers must be true to claims they make about their founder or religion. There is no need to apologize for making the claims so long as we do not denigrate other religions, belittle them or deny them their claims.
Indeed, this was the mistake of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. For political interests, they came together with the objective of standing up to Rome and also for social and religious gains. Although they were united as one in the Sanhedrin (the council that ruled on religious matters for the Jews), their unity was false. It was not based on common truths and beliefs but purely for political and selfish motives. Theirs was a superficial unity not based on truth but pragmatism.
How, then, do we present Jesus without belittling other religions? We should begin by stressing our commonality. This was what St Paul did when he concurred with the Pharisees on the doctrine of the resurrection. We too must begin in this manner by sharing with other religions what we have in common. This will promote trust and respect, paving the way for dialogue. In truth, we have more in common than disagreement. Fundamentally, all religions teach us how to love, forgive and to help each other. Whilst we might not agree on how we interpret moral issues because we differ on what is truth, we are in agreement that we should seek authentic love. All religions teach us to do good and avoid evil even if we do not agree on what exactly is evil, as many moral issues are ambiguous with a mix of love and selfishness, truth and falsehood. In our case, we share with the world a desire to find lasting unity and love. As believers of religions, we share this belief that unity must be based on eternal truths. Of course, not all religions share faith in a personal God. There are many religions that speak of an impersonal, ultimate reality rather than a personal God. With some religions, like the Muslims and the Jews, we share a common faith in the one God.
Only after we have begun with the basic beliefs that are common to all, should we then share our distinctiveness. I prefer to use the word “distinctiveness” rather than “differences.” We should not talk about being different from others but rather that we have our own distinctive way of explaining something, with a distinctive culture, worldview and presuppositions.
What, then, is our distinctive contribution? Namely, that this Ultimate Reality is the one God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This God whom we believe in is a personal God who is a communion of relations within Himself. God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and both are united in the one Spirit. That God is a Trinity of persons in communion, is rendered explicitly by the priestly prayer of Jesus Christ, “Father, Righteous One, the world has not known you, but I have known you, and these have known that you sent me. I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.”
Because the Trinitarian God is communion, He invites us to share in His communion of love and life. Indeed, this is the Priestly prayer of Jesus. What is this glory that Jesus wants to share with us but His intimacy with His Father? It is this intimacy that He desires us all to have as well. Jesus’ deepest desire for us is this, “ that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you loved me.” Only from this intimacy with a personal God can we truly love our fellowmen and the whole of creation because His love in us will empower us to do the same.
The basis for real unity in this world is to love each other in the same way the Father loves the Son. In the same Spirit of the Father and the Son, we are called to love each other the way the Father loves us in Christ. By sharing our experience and faith in God in this manner we show them the way to a fuller understanding of God based on divine revelation through Christ in the Spirit. We are not coercing others to believe what we believe unless they have the same experience of the love of the Trinity. So the desire to proclaim the gospel is not so much a question of proselytism, of making converts, but to share the joy of intimacy with the Father through the Son in the Spirit. In this way, without showing disrespect for other religions, and without any intimidation, we humbly share the gift we have received from Christ with them. They are free to accept or reject.
Of course, at the end of the day, if we do not live out this Trinitarian life, then our belief becomes an empty doctrine. No one will believe, regardless how lofty our doctrines can be. Thus, the greatest scandal in Christianity is the division among His disciples and in His church. We do a disservice to the Church’s mission and proclamation when we are divided, like the Sanhedrin. Truly, by washing our dirty linen in public, we Catholics are no better than spouses and children exposing their family squabbles for the whole world to judge. Instead of settling differences and disagreements quietly and in Christian charity, we often go on social media to express our frustrations, ventilate our anger on fellow Catholics or the Church, or even the bishops and the Holy Father, thinking that we are doing the Church a favour. Instead, we cause division and allow our enemies to take advantage of us, knowing that we are divided within ourselves. How can the world be our judge?
That is why Christ prayed for unity among His disciples before His departure. As St John Paul II said, “our mission is communion and it must therefore be accomplished in communion.” Thus, he urged us to promote a Spirituality of communion before embarking on any mission or ministry. If we are disunited, all the good that we do would be destroyed by Catholics attacking each other. No one will believe that we are Christ’s disciples if we do not love each other as He has loved us. (Jn 13:34)
So how can unity be brought about among us all? By once again asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, the love of God and His gift to us. He is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. He is therefore the principle of unity, the power for love. As we await the feast of Pentecost, let us pray earnestly for the renewal of the Holy Spirit in our lives by praying the Novena to the Holy Spirit.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone.