Sunday, September 19, 2010

That They May Be One


Pope Benedict's visit to the United Kingdom reminded me of St. John's account of the Last Supper. It begins with the breathtaking phrase
... having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. (ch13, v1)
This finds its culmination in chapter 17, that majestic high priestly prayer in which Jesus commends the apostles to His Father's care, asking Him to keep them while He's busy dying on the cross. I find it a stunningly tender passage. Of course, He had already given them the lesson of washing one another's feet and the most precious Eucharist. He could have stopped there. But not Jesus. He loved them to the end. He wanted to seal them in the very unity of the Godhead.
Look at verses 21 through 23.
20."I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;
21."that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
22."And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:
23."I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
Jesus exhausts the possibilities of "in-ness", of who is in whom. Just as important is the "as" of His dedication. Read "in the identical manner". In the identical manner that the Father is in Jesus, He desires that the apostles (and all those who believe in Him through their word - that's us!) be in Them also. It makes me tremble to understand what He is asking, and what we know the Father will not refuse - that we be in Them and They in us - that the same Godhead that was fully in Jesus' clay be in our clay. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. (Ps 139:6)

Which returns me to the pope's visit to Britain. The Eucharist is certainly the premier sign of the unity Jesus entreated for that night, but it is not the only sign. The supremacy of Peter and his successors is another. He is the emblem of the very authority Jesus entrusted to the apostles that night, the Magisterium of the Church.

I spent many years wandering around as a lapsed-Catholic protestant. The first thing I noticed was the absence of a central authority, which I found exhilarating. Governance was decided by the local church, not some distant bureau in Rome. This resonated very comfortably with my notions about civic governance being decided without the interference of a bureaucrat in Washington. Moreover, it served the latent adolescence that was the spirit of the age. But in the fullness of time, I saw what can happen when the local body cannot decide - the local body ruptures and metastasizes. This is the great scandal of Protestantism. Fragmentation has been the order of the day for 500 years such that today there are hundreds of bodies with their own local take on matters of faith, morals and governance, usually determined by the pastor or by a board of deacons or by a self-styled bishop.

My wife and I experienced such a church split. When it was over, we all realized that what had happened had nothing to do with ecclesial or confessional purity - it had everything to do with ego and pride from which there was no way back. Surveying the wreckage, I vowed I would never go through such carnage again. The cri de coeur of the Lord Jesus on His way to cross was that we all may be one, yet we have made ourselves many and constitutionally incapable of unity. What were we to do? What would be the selection criteria for our next "church"? It was simple, really. Which had maintained the line of apostolic succession, teaching authority and doctrines? Which was faithfully handing on the faith which it received from the fathers who received it from the Lord himself? Which makes authoritative pronouncements and makes them stick, not because they're popular, but because they are the will of God? And so, I came back to the only real Church, the Catholic Church.

Simple is not the same as easy. I had to relearn the Catholicism of my youth, and to unlearn a great lot of protestant error. Recognizing an authoritative magisterium means having to submit to it, subordinating my will to God's will, my understanding to God's understanding, as interpreted by that same magisterium.

I found my Church in a terrible state of disrepair, the beginnings of which had caused my departure in the first place. But I couldn't help believing that if I had stayed and done my part, it might not be as bad as I found it today. No matter. The God that prayed that we all be one is the same God that went on to resurrect himself from the dead three days later. He will have His way.
Please pray for our good and holy Holy Father. He bears the cross of his papacy with humility and grace.

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