Prayer for Christian unity
January 29, 2020
“Breaking Bread for the Journey”
Prayer for Christian unity
First of all, I greet the representatives of the various Christian churches and the various Christian communities present.
The theme assigned for today is: “Breaking bread for the Journey”. And to understand it, the Gospel that has just been proclaimed comes to our aid.
It is a passage full of ideas from which we take only a few considerations.
The apostles gathered around Jesus to report what they had done and taught. Others translate “they returned to Jesus”. In any case, Jesus is the reference for apostolic ministry. Something very predictable and banal thing, evidently. It is clear that Jesus is the reference for every mission. These are things that we learn from our childhood.
Yet, even though we have always said that we have Jesus as a reference, our history says something different. Our divisions are the evident demonstration that in our speaking, in our orientations and in our strategies, the main reference was not Jesus and the listening to His teaching but, at best, our idea of Jesus. We know very well in fact, from history, that we have listened more to ourselves, our political interests, our fear of losing acquired power. Rather than serving Jesus, we have used Jesus. Staying with the Gospel passage: we have not been able to gather around Him. And I am not speaking here of the inevitable cultural and ritual differences between us, which are the result of the manifold beauty of the Christianity, but I am speaking of the hostility that has accompanied us for many centuries and because of which we are no longer able to break the Eucharistic bread together.
Jerusalem was never the place where these divisions were born. The divisions arose in the various centers of power: from Rome to Constantinople, from Asia to Northern Europe and other parts of the world. Jerusalem, however, is the place where the divisions have converged and where this deep wound in the one Body of Christ, the Church, is evident, tangible and painful.
There is still a long way to go for us to be fully together, and we can and want to pray and invoke the Spirit so that in times and in ways that only He knows, we can return to be fully together and reunite around Jesus.
In the past, the Church of Jerusalem suffered the fruit of the divisions between the Churches. Who knows if in the future it is not possible that from here, from our Church, true renewal of the relationships between us can arise?
Despite the tiredness, the heat and the fatigue, the crowd chases after Jesus and His apostles. The crowd was for a whole day following Jesus, in the heat, without eating, tired and hungry, but in the evening, despite all this, instead of going home, they were all still there with him, listening to Him to the point that, according to the disciples, it was perhaps time to dismiss them (Mk 6:35). The first question I ask myself, therefore, is, are we in the same condition as that crowd? Really, like those five thousand, putting aside our personal interests, we feel the need for his presence, to listen to his voice, to eat of his bread, which is he himself? What are we genuinely hungry for? What food are we looking for? There is not one kind of hunger, as we know. There can be many forms of hunger. So, what is the hunger that characterizes us? What nourishes our Christian life?
“Give them some food yourselves.” (6:37): Jesus’ response confuses the apostles, who were rightly worried about the hungry crowd. Not that each one solves the problem by himself, but that they share with the whole crowd what they have! An invitation that is humanly impossible to achieve. Instead, that’s exactly what happens. Starting from the little that they had and was made available, Jesus accomplishes the miracle of multiplication, giving enough bread for everyone. It is an invitation to become “eucharistic”, that is, people who give, who donate themselves, and whose life is one of continuous praise to God. We are not asked to share our knowledge or our wealth, but our life, which shines God’s work. Sharing the Eucharistic bread requires that there be, at the same time, the availability to make a free gift of oneself.
Currently, we are not yet able to share the Eucharistic bread among us, but we can start by sharing our common life. To welcome and love each other.
It is above all the task of the shepherds to give this orientation.
This means getting our hands dirty, compromising, getting involved, putting our lives in the hands of those entrusted to us, of our communities as they are, forgetful of ourselves, sometimes paying a considerable price, in terms of relationships, misunderstandings, oppositions, loneliness… after all, giving oneself is also a bit like dying, like Jesus on the cross. One does not make a gift of himself, without also paying a price.
“And they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties” (Mk 6:40). As just mentioned, the Eucharist creates supportive communities, where there is mutual support. “And all that believed were together and had all things in common… and shared with all according to the need of each one… and breaking bread in their homes, and they ate their meals with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:43-45).
One of the problems of our Church today is precisely the anonymity of our communities, more like the crowd than to the groups of fifty established by Jesus in our reading. If you don’t know each other, you can’t even share. There is often a separation between the sacrament that we celebrate around the altar and real life. This is the reason for the anonymity of our communities.
Today, even more than in the past, faith cannot grow in anonymous masses but needs faces and names, concrete and understandable experiences. Nobody gets converted after reading the catechism of the Catholic Church or the canons of our different churches. We change if we meet the risen Lord. The Gospel passage invites us to give a face and an identity to our communities.
It is up to us, therefore, to give a precise and recognizable form to our communities, to translate what we celebrate in mystery into life, to make the light of the risen Lord visible in our respective communities.
Waiting that one day we will be able to break the Eucharistic bread together, with the sign that we will fulfill during this celebration, we want together today to commit ourselves as the Church of Jerusalem, as a small but significant Christian community, to welcome each other, to share as much as possible our life, our problems, our labors.
But we can’t just look at ourselves, as if we were the only ones. Instead, we must look to the world in which we find ourselves.
We want as a Christian community, together, to express our sharing of the labors and sufferings of all, to take care of the injustices and poverty right before our eyes, to make ourselves a free voice for the rights of those whose rights are denied.
Our society has always been culturally and religiously pluriform. Yet today we participate in the denial to recognize this diversity, where everyone has his dignity and rights.
It is now a narrative of these days.
Well, in this context, I believe that it can also be said that being Eucharistic, that is, sharing life and breaking bread among us, means also assuming and recognizing the deep wound of this Land.
That is, we cannot pray to reconcile the divisions between us, without acknowledging also the division in this Land, the refusal to welcome and recognize each other as people who live there, with dignity and justice.
We cannot remain silent. It is our duty to say: no, this is not the way. This way will only bring violence and hate.
From the little bread made available, Jesus has fed five thousand people. May the Lord Jesus then still today, for our small community of believers in Christ, be the bread that gives strength in this difficult but necessary path of reconciliation and be a source of light and hope for all.
January 29, 2020: Breaking Bread for the Journey
Latin Patriarchate, Jerusalem Photos: ©Nadim Asfour /CTS