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Saturday, November 12, 2011

St Josaphat

"Pray always without becoming weary." Lk 18:1

In the 17th chapter of St. John's gospel, Jesus prays that his disciples may be one, but even a cursory glance at the history of the church reminds us that unity is not uniformity. There are 13 rites, many of which have multiple subdivisions, in the Roman Catholic Church and each of these rites, "possess their own hierarchy, differ in liturgical and ecclesiastical discipline, and possess their own spiritual heritage." l In other words, while the liturgy, language, law and spirituality may differ markedly, the Christ who is their center is the same. It is this unity that St. Josaphat, whose feast we celebrate today, worked so hard to attain.

Josaphat, working 500 years after the Great Schism between Eastern and Western churches of 1054, spent his entire life in pursuit of the unity for which Jesus prayed. Now almost 1000 years old, the task of unity, not uniformity, remains a vital goal of the church. At Vatican II, the Council fathers made it clear Christian unity was one of it's principal concerns,2 and though elusive, the unity among the churches as a sign of Christ's unbroken love, remains remains a goal of the 21st century church.

How very important then to listen to Jesus' command to pray always without becoming weary. No matter how difficult life in the churches might become, we must continue to pray and trust that God will bring us to a new unity as Christians, but we should not be naive. From the very beginning Christians were divided about how best to proclaim the Good News. When Paul returned from his missionary journeys to Rome, Greece and Antioch, he was met with a stern group of believers who demanded that those wanting to become Christians first observe the entirety of the Torah. Men must be circumcised and the strict dietary laws of Kosher must remain in force. Paul would have none of it, insisting that people could come to belief in Jesus without first converting to Judaism. Unfortunately, similar divisions continue to plague the church today.

In a world and country that is drowning in debt making it almost impossible for the very poor to even hope for a better life, rather than gathering up our resources as Christians for the good of all, there are those who continue to battle about the liturgy in ways that are scandalous to outsiders.  How these arguments help God's people seek the unity for which Jesus prayed is beyond me. Reading St Josaphat's life makes me believe that he was faced with similar struggles 500 years ago. Accused of going "latin", code language for being willing to use both Greek and Latin in the liturgy as a sign of the church's unity,  Josaphat's efforts at reuniting the churches of East and West were struck down, not for honest theological reasons, but for political posturing. Unless we find ways to negotiate an end to the  tensions that we hold onto as churches, we will be unable to fulfill Jesus prayer that we might "all be one."

Today, quietly examine the issues that divide your family and/or your parish and ask God for a path of unity and peace.

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