Unity of humanity

Jane Gore-Booth

Our lives as Christians cannot stay static: either our love for God and our neighbour deepens and expands, or it shrinks and we become increasingly self-centred and selfish. There is a lovely story of someone visiting Mother Teresa of Calcutta who caught sight of her going up to receive Holy Communion, her head slightly tilted to one side and with a look of pure adoration on her face. Later in the day she took the visitor to one of her homes for the dying and, as they passed through the wards, a dying man – almost certainly not a Christian – called out in agony. Immediately Mother Teresa left her visitor and went over to the dying man. He noticed that her head was tilted in the same way and there was the same look of adoration on her face as at Mass. Mother Teresa was able to see the face of Christ in everyone, whether Christian, Hindu or Muslim: we are all made in the image and likeness of God.

Mother Teresa succeeded in marrying her conviction of the centrality of Christ and Christianity with a deep respect for differing religious beliefs. Her aim was to make a Hindu a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim and a Christian a better Christian. There are parallels here with Abbé Couturier’s vision for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. He suggested prayer on the first five days for the sanctification of the different groups of Christians; not that they should come round to one’s own understanding, but that all may grow in holiness. If we grow closer to God, then necessarily we shall also grow closer to one another.

Couturier had Jewish blood and spent nine years of his childhood in Muslim Algeria. We pray on 23 January for the sanctification of all Jews, on 24 January for the sanctification of all other non-Christians, and on the final day for the unity of all humanity in the charity and truth of Christ. Couturier saw the redemption of mankind as a single problem: the reunion of all Christians is the way that leads to the union of all mankind in Christ. Prayer for the sanctification of non-Christians should come naturally to Christians, whose love for God and their neighbour is expanding, but who are worried about world peace and what is happening in this country and abroad.

Such prayer does not require any knowledge of non-Christians’ beliefs or politics, nor does it require us to deny our fears – prayer must always be totally honest – but if we want to grow in our Christian discipleship, if we want our love to expand in an increased understanding of who our neighbour is, then:

Let us pray for the Unity of Christians. Forgive us the sin which separates us and maintains divisions among Christians. May your Spirit penetrate all our souls and draw us closer to Christ in holiness. Give all human beings, your children, an ever greater holiness, and lead us along your path which leads us all to unity in the charity and truth of Christ. We pray too for the people of Islam and all other non-Christians. May we and they be enlightened by your Spirit, walk before you in sincerity of heart, become more perfect witnesses of your love, and advance on the way to salvation.