In an unusually informal video made on a smartphone held by a Pentecostal pastor, Pope Francis called on all Christians to set aside their differences, explaining his “longing” for Christian unity.
The seven-minute video, which was posted on YouTube, was made during a Jan. 14 meeting with Anthony Palmer, a bishop and international ecumenical officer with the independent Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches. Italian news reports say that the pope and Palmer knew each other when Francis served as the archbishop of Buenos Aires.
In his remarks, part of a 45-minute video, Francis said, in Italian, that all Christians are to blame for their divisions and that he prays to the Lord “that he will unite us all.”
Our text this morning, brothers and sisters, is from the inimitable Scottish devout Robert Louis Stevenson, writing (ostensibly) about his native city:
“Indeed, there are not many uproars in this world more dismal than that of the Sabbath bells in Edinburgh: a harsh ecclesial tocsin; the outcry of incongruous orthodoxies, calling on every separate conventicler to put up a protest, each in his own synagogue, against ‘right-hand extremes and left-hand defections.’ And surely there are few worse extremes than this extremity of zeal; and few more deplorable defections than this disloyalty to Christian love. Shakespeare wrote a comedy of ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ The Scottish nation made a fantastic tragedy on the same subject. And it is for the success of this remarkable piece that these bells are sounded every Sabbath morning on the hills above the Forth. How many of them might rest silent in the steeple, how many of those ugly churches might be demolished and turned once more into useful building materials, if people who think almost exactly the same thoughts about religion would condescend to worship God under the same roof! But there are the chalk lines. And which to pocket pride, and speak the foremost word?”
Let us talk for a minute, blunt and honest and not polite for a change, about that which is never said and ought to be: that the divisions and disagreements among the Christian sects and traditions are silly and selfish.
As an ecumenist I listened to (and largely bought) the notion that taking Communion with other Christians in the absence of institutional unity was tantamount to premarital sex, to an intimacy that should not be attempted because we were not — as disagreeing Christians — properly wed to each other yet.
But the more time I spend as a day-to-day trenches brand of pastor living out the faith in the real world, I find this argument holds less and less water.
A reality I have come to grips with after decades of personal ecumenical involvement is the same reality that leaders at the highest levels of churches have been wrestling with for centuries: The age-old pursuit of doctrinal unity under an authoritative “true church” will likely never occur before the Second Coming.
Another reality — a more personal one — has hit me with full force. This division at our Eucharists inflicts pain upon those of tender conscience and deep love for Christ and his bride. They are broken upon the rocks of our divisions and it is a scandal.