Thursday last week, we celebrated the Solemnity of Ascension of the Lord into heaven, which begins the fulfilment of Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit. For pastoral reasons, this Solemnity is celebrated today in some part of the world. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in Nigeria celebrates the seventh Sunday of Easter, which emphasizes Jesus Christ’s prayer of unity and love to his Father. Christ communicates this to us his disciples in other that we proclaim it to every spheres of life. As we continue to walk through the Gospel of John and Acts of the Apostles this Easter season, we observe that after the ascension of Christ, in the time of the Apostles, the unity of the Christian community was threatened because of the admittance of Gentiles (Pagans) into the Church, which led to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). This was the first Ecumenical Council of the Church convoked by the Apostles. The disagreement between Peter and Paul on circumcision (Gal 2) was reconciled in this Council, in such a way that none of the Apostles saw the need to begin his own church or become general overseer. Similarly, Paul appealed to the Christians in Corinth, “I urge you in the name of the Lord not to have factions among yourselves” (Cor. 1:10). This appeal for Christian unity is so relevant in today’s liturgy; it is the prayer of Christ, “That they may be one.” The Church in the time of the Apostles remained united and survived as one Church for a very long time and there after some divisions came in, such as the post chalcedonia schism of about 470 AD, which gave rise to the Neophisite churches in the east.
Also, was the great schism of 1085, which gave rise to the present day Orthodox churches; Martin Luther’s protestant reformation of the 19th century led to the split of the Church in the west into Catholics and Protestants, of which this division has continued among Protestants. This was the division Christ fervently prayed against. This division is indeed a scandal and contradiction to the will of Christ. Efforts have been made to restore Christian unity over time, among which is the Second Vatican that brought about Unitatis Redintegratio (The Decree on ecumenism) to provide guideline and principles in the Church. In view of this, Pope John Paul II came up with the encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That they all may be one) on 25th May 1995. Also, alongside with the Christian Council of Nigerian (CCN) was the emergence of the Catholic Association of Nigeria (CAN) with the aim of fostering Christian unity, inter-religious dialogue and peaceful co-existence with people of other faith. In the first reading, we observe the unity that existed among the Apostles, such that political issue like election was not a means of division among them. This is evident in the selection of Mathias.
The party of Barsabbas never took anyone to court that the election was rigged; rather, they were docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as Peter led them in prayers. It is pertinent to note that the Apostles did not take any action without prayer. Truly, they learnt from their Master who lifted up His eyes to heaven and prayed for them. Lifting up of eyes to heaven indicate the physical posture of Christ as he prayed; a custom common to his own days as seen in Ps 123:1; Mark 7:34 and Jn 11:41. In His prayer, He said, “…I have guarded them and none of them should be lost but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” This prayer is reflected in the first reading, which says, “His office, let another take.” Invariably, prayer is a necessary tool for discernment and Christian unity. St. John in the second reading points out that for us to be united, we must be bound in love. He said, “If God has loved us, we must have same love for one another.
” There can be no unity without love. Love was Christ’s admonition to His disciples before His Ascension. Today, John emphatically reminds us to “love one another, for God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God.” In addendum, John 3:16 says, “God so love the world that he gave his only Son…” As we celebrate World Communication Day, theological thoughts of Karl Rahner on auto-communication comes to mind. God first communicated Himself to us through his Son Jesus Christ, who in turn communicated to the Father through His prayer for unity and love among His disciples. Hence, the liturgy of today communicates to us that despite the division that combats our society and families, let us continue to pave ways for love and unity to thrive among us. We are all responsible for the communication we make and are witnesses to the truth said Pope Francis. It is Christ’s prayer that we are consecrated in truth. Peace be with you. Happy Sunday