Homily for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2023

By: Pierbattista Pizzaballa - Published: January 25 Wed, 2023

Homily for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2023 Available in the following languages:

Dear brothers and sisters,

Most Reverend Excellencies,

may the Lord give you peace!

This year, we are all enriched by the many suggestions proposed by the Word of God during this week of prayer for Christian Unity. Even though its general theme, “do good, seek justice” (Is 1:17), is challenging – especially here in our Holy Land – it is every day accompanied by other passages that make it more concrete; “Who is my neighbor” (Lk 10:25-36), or the passage of the rich young man who wants to obtain eternal life (Mk 10:17-31), as well as many other strong suggestions. Today, this week of prayer invites us to reflect on a particularly painful and difficult theme from the Beatitudes, which we have just heard: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt 5:4). It can be linked to Ecclesiastes 4:1: “Again I saw all the oppressions that take place under the sun: the tears of the victims with none to comfort them! From the hand of their oppressors comes violence, and there is none to comfort them!”

We are thus invited this evening to reflect and put on the horizon of our prayer the theme of violence, of the injustice brought by violence, and especially of how to stand in the face of the evil that is before our eyes. We are invited to ask ourselves from the proclaimed passages whether “the tears of the victims” (Eccl. 4:1) have no one to comfort them, as Ecclesiastes states, or whether they will instead be consoled, have a voice that will take care of them, as the Gospel says.

These are subjects that have an immediate political connotation, both internationally and, of course, in our experience here in the Holy Land, which is marked by violence and injustice in a variety of contexts. But it is not only political life that is involved here. Violence, oppression, pain, and injustice are first found in our own souls, in the lives of many families, in our own communities, and more generally in human relationships, as well as in our relationship with creation.

The Divider, or, in other words, the Devil, has not ceased his action. We know that the world and mankind have been redeemed by Christ’s Passover, but we also know that we will always have to deal with the presence of evil within ourselves and in the world, as well as with its consequences on our personal, civil and social lives. Divisions and conflicts will always be part of our daily lives, and there will always be a cry of pain to be heard somewhere. But that cry will however also always be mixed with the voice of those who work for justice; those who nurture peace within themselves and build it in their life contexts, whether religious or political, with patience and perseverance, and heedless of persecution and loneliness, because they have been won by Christ, who knows how to give a peace that differs from the way the world gives it (cf. Jn. 14:27).

It is therefore the characteristic of Christians, of those who have encountered Christ and have experienced salvation, not to be shocked or disturbed by the evil in the world, but, on the contrary, to be committed to justice, freedom, dignity, and equality among all people, created in the image and likeness of God. This is a constitutive commitment of the Christian faith; it is the Christian way of being in the world, because the encounter with Christ has opened our eyes to the life of all. We suffer from the evil in the world, but we do not allow ourselves to be shocked by it.

We cannot understand this perspective though our human eyes alone, and if our hearts are not open to the great newness that Jesus brings, if we are not willing to be converted. Before giving the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus traveled through Galilee asking us to return to Him (Mt 4:17) – that is, asking us to change our way of thinking.

Jesus is our consolation, and only in Him will we find the strength to “encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God” (2 Cor. 1:4). He does not exempt us from the pain we experience in the face of violence, oppression, and injustice. But His presence in us, in the Church, will not allow evil to find fertile ground and take root. Evil, as I said, will always be present, but it will not find a home in the hearts of believers, as they will already be inhabited by the cross of Christ.

It will be a path that is never linear, because the liberation from evil and its consequences, which occurred with Christ’s Passover, will be fully completed only in the heavenly Jerusalem, in whose construction we Christians are called to collaborate, working for justice and coming to the aid of the oppressed (Is 1:17).

I often wonder, as I reflect and pray, where I stand in relation to all this. Am I with Ecclesiastes, which sees oppression but not consolation, or am I with the Gospel, which can find consolation even in tears? Am I locked in my grief in the face of oppression, perhaps with anger and resentment, or do I cooperate as a Christian in building the heavenly Jerusalem?

Despite the many conflicts that have plagued the Holy Land for generations, the Churches here are very active in the building of the heavenly Jerusalem. Schools, hospitals, homes for the elderly, for children, for the disabled, and much more, are a constitutive part of our identity as outward, and not inward, looking communities. They are our way of doing good here in the Holy Land, of working for justice, of opening our eyes to pain and oppression. Referring to Ecclesiastes, which we heard in the first reading, it is our way of being among those who comfort. We do not say this to boast, because we see every day the limitation and weight of our work, but to acknowledge a reality.

Consolation, however, needs not only welcoming gestures, but also words.

We have the duty to proclaim with our lives, but also with our words, the Gospel of justice and peace. For this reason, we often find ourselves at a crossroads, called to choose between the necessary denunciation of violence and abuse, always perpetrated to the detriment of the weakest, and the risk of reducing the Church to a “political agent”, forgetting her true nature and exposing her to easy and superficial instrumentalization. Our presence in the world cannot be limited only to the service of charity towards the poorest: it is also parrhesiastic, that is, it cannot avoid expressing, according to the modalities proper to the Church, a judgment on the world and its dynamics (cf. Jn 16:8.11). We know very well how, in the Holy Land, politics interferes with ordinary life in all its aspects. Everything is political, and this seriously questions all of our Churches. We all are involved in a conflict that wears down the lives of our faithful, who are awaiting from us a word of hope, of consolation, but also of truth. A truly difficult and never definitive discernment is required here. We cannot remain silent in the face of injustice. Taking a stand, as we are often asked, however, cannot mean engaging in confrontation, but must always translate into words and actions on behalf of those who suffer and weep. Our speech must not be characterized by rancor, anger or resentment, but must have the freedom and peace that Christ has given us. It can only have one perspective: forgiveness and reconciliation. For Christians, the only possible position to take is that of Christ, serving the lives of all. The Church loves and serves society, and shares with the civil authorities concern and action for the common good, in the general interest of all and especially the poor, always raising her voice to defend the rights of God and mankind; but she does not enter into logics of competition and division.

This is not the mission of the Catholic, or Orthodox, or Protestant or any other church in the Holy Land alone. It is the mission to which we are all called, as the Christian community of the Holy Land, which has “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”. (Eph 4:5-6).

May the Holy Spirit enlighten all of us, open our eyes to recognize the pain that is before us, and open our hearts to forgiveness and reconciliation, without which there will never be true peace.