One God, One Church
In today’s Gospel, Our Lord prays for all the faithful, “that they may all be one”. This unity and oneness among believers is to be rooted in our participation in the divine love; a love that is oriented towards God, and is reflected to the world.
Reading: John 17:20-26
The following homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:
For the past two and a half weeks or so, we have been reading, at daily Mass, from the ‘Last Supper Discourses’ in the Gospel of John. Today’s Gospel reading is the conclusion of those discourses. In it, we read of Our Lord praying for the Church, “that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me”.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that this notion of ‘unity’ and ‘oneness’ is a very important concept for Christians. After all, we profess in the Nicene Creed that we believe in One God and in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. It was important for the early Christians, who were “of one heart and soul” [Acts 4:32]. It is also important for us as Dominicans since the Rule of St Augustine begins by saying that we ought to live together harmoniously, having “one heart and one soul seeking God”. As such, I think it is worth stopping for a while to reflect on Our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel, and what it means for us to be united, as God is united.
Aquinas points out that God has a two-fold unity – a unity of essence and of love. So, on the one hand, we are called to be united in love, just as God is love. And this love that we ought to share is the very core of the Gospel and is what manifests the truth of the Gospel in our lives. We know that this is not some vague and abstract concept of love, because God has already revealed to us what this love is like: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son…” [John 3:16]. We are called to participate in this divine love. We are united to God when we respond to his love for us, when we orient our hearts and our lives towards him, in worship and in devotion. And we are united with each other when we share this same love with each other.
We are also united with God when our lives reflect God’s nature and his goodness. The Scriptures tell us that we are made in the image and likeness of God. And, as images, our lives ought to reflect to the world who God is – i.e. we ought to be images of Love itself. We are called to be imitators of the divine love, as St Paul says [Ephesians 5:1].
But this means that if I fail to love, I am failing – in some way – to be an image of God. When I promote scandal, division, or schism within the Church – or when I engage in gossip, the spreading of rumours, backbiting – or when I am impatient with the faults of others, I am failing to be what I was made to be. When I do not love, I become – in some way – less human.
Now, we are also told what the fruit of this unity will be: “that the world may believe…” [John 17:20]. Nothing manifests and preaches the truth of the Gospel to the world better than the bonds of love shared by Christians. Indeed, I may have the best and most eloquent arguments for Christianity, but I do not live out the commandment to love my neighbour and my enemy, then what I preach is a warped version of the Gospel. This is why Our Lord says at the beginning of the discourse: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you… By this all men will know that you are my disciples…” [John 13:34-35].
This is also why the Constitutions of the Order says: “The unanimity of our life has its roots in the love of God and it ought to be a living example of universal reconciliation in Christ which we proclaim by our preaching”. The way we treat each other as fellow Christians must reflect Christ’s love for us, otherwise our preaching is in vain.
Perhaps, this is also a damning indictment of those who, throughout history and in our current times, seek to promote division and schism within the Church, for whatever reason. Such endeavours often masquerade as a defense of the truth of the Gospel, or as an act of love. But nothing can be further from the truth, as St John Chrysostom points out: “there is no scandal so great as division… whereas unity amongst believers is a great argument for believing” [Chrys., Hom. 82 on the Gospel of John].
Therefore, perhaps we ought to reflect on our own lives and how we treat our fellow Christians. Perhaps we ought to more closely examine ourselves whether – in our thoughts, words, deeds, and omissions – we have failed to be charitable to our neighbour. Where we find ourselves lacking, let us aspire once more towards a perfect imitation of the divine love; and let us ask the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts to teach us how to love as Christ loves us, and to give us the grace we need to be peacemakers.