Christian Unity Week always happens in the week around the feast of the Conversion of St Paul. This was the moment when someone who had been totally committed to a strict observance of the Law suddenly realised what lay behind it – what the spirit – or maybe Spirit – underpinning it all was. After a period of what we would now call discernment in his own Journey of Faith, he realised that his task was to share this good news with everyone – God’s love shown through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was for all peoples in all times and all places.
Few of us have quite such a dramatic change of heart – but all of us are on a similar Journey to that of Paul. For some it may mean a radical shift from one way of being to a life of faith – for others it may be a gradual awareness that where one has been is no longer “home”.
A couple of things that shine through Paul’s letters are the themes of love and the variety of gifts that come from the Holy Spirit for the up-building of the Kingdom of God.
Within the Christian family we have examples of the different ways in which the Spirit works. Some denominations are highly charismatic – valuing the work of the Spirit in healings and prophecies. Others are deeply immersed in the Word and Bible study. Others use ritual and symbol to express deep truths that cannot be put into words. Each on their own is but a part of the richness of what Christ offers to those who follow him – together it makes for mighty witness in the world and, for many this is an attraction of the Catholic Church – that within it are all the elements that make for a holistic Christian life.
Paul spoke strongly against people who would insist that they were “for” one person or one way of being a Christian to the exclusion of others. His emphasis was always on the person at the heart of our Christian faith – Jesus Christ. Yes, he said, some of you are prophets and some of you are teachers – and some of you pray in tongues and heal – and some of you will even give your bodies over to death – but, in the end, all these things will pass away and you will be left with just one thing: love. That is what we aspire to – it is (or should be) the thing on which we will ultimately be judged and so it should be the underpinning of all we do. As St Paul said, over all the other things put on love.
Christian Unity Week is not called Christian Uniformity Week – but a week in which we remember that we are united around one person, Christ. It is his face we seek – and his example of all-embracing love and inclusion that we strive to follow. We may sense that we are called to follow in a particular way in a particular denomination but this is always with the purpose of growing more deeply in love with Christ – as Paul himself did on that road to Damascus and on every day of the rest of his life.