Once upon a time there was a poor man, a manual laborer, who wanted to join a rich, exclusive parish community, in which everyone had a doctorate and had well-paying jobs. The pastor didn't want to refuse him to his face, to tell him that he doesn't fit in, but used various techniques to try and dissuade the man. Perceiving this, the poor man finally said he would bring the matter in prayer before God. A few days later he returned to the pastor. “So did God give you an answer?” asked the pastor. “He did,” answered the man, God said that it is useless. He said, “I've been trying for ten years to get into that community, and still haven't made it.”
My dear brothers and sisters! The conviction “we're the best” can be an obstacle to the Holy Spirit, to the unity for which Christ prayed before his death, the unity of Christians, “that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23). The unity of Christians should be a persuasive sign that God is truly with his people.
In the times of the early Christ outsiders were often impressed by the way that Christians held together: “See how they love one another other!”
In the course of history various larger divisions arose, such as that between West and East, or through the Reformation. Groups that lived their faith differently were frequently treated as unfaithful, or, when somewhat more tolerated, as the “competition.”
But within the Church too, there was and is often a competitive mentality, and a view that our way is the only one of value. Pastors that don't want to give families permission to celebrate baptisms or confirmations in another parish… parish communities that consider themselves the best, and think that the liturgy, the celebrations, even the rooms in the neighboring parishes just aren't as good as theirs… When we consider the question of ecumenism, the Church has to change, because change would be helpful for cooperation and unity with non-Catholics. But for us to change something, e.g., to celebrate the Mass a half hour earlier or later, that's out of the question!
I exaggerate, of course, but want thereby to highlight two genuinely important points here. First, you can't easily, indeed you can't please everyone. The task the Church has is an enormous one. Humanly speaking it seems near impossible for the Church to reach union with traditional, orthodox Christians as well as liberal protestants. The Church very much needs the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth and of unity. We – the Church on at its levels, from the bishops to the parish communities to we as individuals – need the Holy Spirit in order to discern to what we must hold fast, what we must change, and what new approaches we must undertake, knowing that some will remain unsatisfied, because less is changed than they think should be, and others will be upset that forms of expression and life in the church that they have found to be truly good and learned to cherish are no longer maintained.
Secondly, the changes that are necessary in order to realize unity begin with us. St. Teresa of Calcutta, to the question “what, do you think, is the first things that should change in the Church,” answered simply “you and I.” An answer valid for us, too. Certainly we should sometimes seek to get other people to change. But in the first place we ourselves have to do so.
It is easy to point to purported or real flaws at higher levels the Church: the bishops, the pope should set a lower level for recognizing full, Eucharistic communion with other churches, it should accept non-catholic Christians on a par with Catholics as sponsors for baptism… it is easy, because we don't thereby have to change.
But the changes that contribute to fruitful cooperation and move towards unity with other believers, begin with us. How can we attain unity with other christian communities, if we can't maintain unity within the catholic church, if we can't leave in harmony within our own families, but fight, and even break up and go different ways?
As we celebrate the Eucharist, the sacrament of unity, let us join ourselves to the prayer of Jesus, “that they may be one!” Let us pray for his Holy Spirit for those with authority and responsibility in the Church, in the different churches and christian faith, for those who pursue dialog with one another, and for ourselves, that we live our faith in Jesus Christ where we are openly and boldly, and through looking together at Him, work together in and for the one Church. Amen.
(Reconstructed and translated from my notes and memory, with adaptions for the written form — Fr. Joseph Bolin)