By Father John Crossin
Am I spiritually mature enough for Christian Unity? This is a question I have kept asking myself in recent years. As we get closer to unity with our Christian Brothers and Sisters [See for example the Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist on our convergences and remaining differences with the churches of the Lutheran World Federation.], this question is becoming more salient.
Spiritual growth, growth in relationship to Christ, is necessary for our engagement with the world and with our Christian colleagues. The ecumenical saying is that ‘as we come closer to Christ we come closer to one another.’ What some call our ‘inner work’ is very important for Christian unity as well as for our engagement with a secularizing world [See our former USCCB colleague Fr. Allan Figueroa Deck’s new book Francis, Bishop of Rome for more on the necessity of taking time for deep prayer as we encounter the world.]
What are the contours or what is the outline of this growth? As you know if you have read my previous Lenten Reflections, I am a follower of St. Francis de Sales [d. 1622]. Thus I firmly ground myself on the path laid out by a Doctor of the Church in his Treatise on the Love of God—though I am quick to say that I am an imperfect follower of this great saint.
For DeSales, the first two ‘stages of loving’ concern a deeper conversion to Christ and coming to some balance in pursuing good things in our lives. I have mentioned these briefly in earlier Reflections. The third of these interrelated stages of loving involves coming to love what God wants for us—sometimes referred to as ‘loving God’s will’--above all things.
At this point we become more conscious of God’s grace in the present moment. Years ago I put it this way: “Now we are continually listening for God’s will, paying more attention than we once did to the things around us and the movements of the Spirit within us.” This attentiveness prepares us for deeper prayer and service to others.
I must admit that this level is a struggle for me! Sometimes I am more attentive, sometimes less so, and sometimes not at all. The goal, Christian unity and celebrating the eternal banquet with others, is clear; the spiritual path has stumbles and detours as well as smooth stretches.