Last Saturday, January 18, marked the beginning of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. In most Catholic parishes this has been shortened to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. But we here at Our Lady of the Atonement still keep the Octave of Prayer because it was started by Fr. Paul (who was a convert from Anglicanism by the way) of the Atonement Friars, which is where this parish gets its name.
This Octave of Prayer is very important to me in part because I, like Fr. Paul, am a convert from Anglicanism. But more importantly, it was my own desire for unity that helped bring me into the Catholic Church.
One day while I was getting ready for a daily Mass as an Episcopal priest I was reading over the Gospel lesson for the day. The Gospel was from John 17 and when I read verse 21 it was like a light had suddenly been turned on in a dark room – Jesus prayed to His Father for His disciples, “that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, in me and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me.” After reading this I immediately understood, for the first time in my life, what Jesus meant about the unity of His followers. And this is not what people usually think nowadays about unity. When people today think of Christian unity they think of different denominations getting together, holding hands, singing “Kum Ba Yah” and then doing a service project together – all the while maintaining their divergent views on the Christian Faith.
But that is not what Christ was praying for – He was praying that we might have the same unity that He shares with the Father: an organic and unbreakable communion of all that is True and Good that is founded on love. I had already come to realize by that point that where Truth or Goodness was concerned within the Episcopal church it was just my opinion against another's opinion. Outside the protection of the Catholic Church there is no safeguard for true unity because there is no ultimate Authority; not even in regards to Holy Scripture because outside the Catholic Church everyone is their own pope – determining for himself what Scripture does and does not mean.
The only way we can have true unity, the unity for which Christ prayed, is to have that Authority which Christ Himself supplied to His one and only Church: “I say unto thee, thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church.” The Pope, the successor to St. Peter, is that source of Authority that all Christians need if we are to truly be one as Christ intended.