"The great cannot exist without the small; nor the small without the great. A certain organic unity binds all parts, so that each helps and is helped by all." St Clement to the Corinthians
The wisdom of Pope St Clement has a context. There were disputes in the Church of Corinth about authority, and Clement, while reminding the Corinthians that that needed to accept the authority of the bishop and priests, also assured the entire church that everyone had a role in the community of faith. Good governance was not simply a matter of a bishop deciding disputed questions, it required that bishops respect everyone in the church. Only when decisions taken by the church fostered unity among bishops, priests and people would everyone be helped.
The church, of course, fosters mutual respect not only as a path to good governance, but as a sign of Christ's presence in the assembly of believers. Jesus prays that "all might be one," (Jn 17:22) so that the world will know that he was sent by God. Real unity, not simply uniformity, is often an elusive goal in our lives. It demands that we listen with respect and openness of spirit to those with whom we have difficulties or disagreements. Sometimes the early church would encourage those who were separated by some dispute or sin to seek out witnesses to testify (Mt 18: 15-20) about what is separating people from one another and would promise a great gift to those who understood the importance of unity and worked to heal divisions. “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Mt: 18:19-20)
In recent years, a friend suggested, because unity is so important in the church and is a sign that Christ is presence among us, that I take another step when listening to people. "Pray for them as they speak," she said. "Pray that they will be able to articulate clearly what is bothering them. Pray that you might be able to help them in doing what God wants of them."
Today, pray for unity in your families and communities, especially tomorrow when you gather for Thanksgiving.