“Are we protecting our unity with prayer, our unity of the Church? Are we praying for one another?”
– Pope Francis
I recall visiting Rome in 2016 and having a great sense of unity. It was the Jubilee of Mercy and so very many thousands of people had come from every part of the world to be in the Eternal City. So many races and nationalities, so many skin colours, so many languages – and all there, together, for love of the Church. It left me with a deep sense of ‘oneness’, that no matter who we were nor where we had come from, and regardless of where we would then travel to, we were one people, if only for a little while.
Today, just a few short years later, things can seem quite different. The world has become so polarised – or at least, polarised in a more obvious way. This is the case politically, where national leaders do not always seem to be working for the common good, but for their own ends. And it is the case nationally, where regions and nations seek individualism rather than unity, divergence rather than convergence. And it is the case, too, within the Church, if a cursory glance at social media is anything to go by.
It seems it is no longer sufficient to be simply ‘Catholic’ – often, people feel the need to add some sort of qualifier to this, to offer an insight into their personal leanings of the practice of the Faith. Worse still, these qualifiers do not engender unity, but separation; all too often they wound, rather than heal. An inherent danger here is that the unity of the Church becomes fragmented. It is important to remember that all of this is the exception rather than the rule – social media is a very vocal place, marked by loudness more than anything else, and it can seem as though the goal is simply to be heard. But still, it does reflect something that is present.
Speaking of unity within the Church earlier this year, our Holy Father Pope Francis said –
“We today can ask ourselves: ‘Are we protecting our unity with prayer, our unity of the church? Are we praying for one another?’ What would happen if we prayed more and complained less? The same thing that happened to Peter in prison. Now as then, so many closed doors would be opened, so many chains that bind would be broken. And we would be amazed.”
This is perhaps a prophetic call-back to each and every one of us who profess to be Catholic. The word ‘Catholic’ means ‘universal’ – it encompasses a range of experiences, many of which are different to our own; but none are any less valid because of that so long as the central Faith is the same one that comes to us from the Apostles, and which is held together by the Pope and the Magisterium. As soon as we personally determine what is valid, what is good, what is better – we are moving into dangerous territory. This is for the Church to judge – not us. She alone has that charism.
Perhaps we would do better simply to put into practice what Pope Francis counsels us to do – pray for our unity.