By Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick
“They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” we sang regularly at my Lutheran early primary school. “And we pray that all unity may one day be restored,” we students continued, about half of us Catholic. As an elementary-schooler, I only had the vaguest notion that they were Christian, but that they did things differently. Mainly, I knew, they did not have Mass, nor did they regularly make the sign of the cross.
Now, on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I know much more about the different practices and beliefs of different Christians as well as the disunity that exists between us.
The brokenness of the body of Christ – the splintering off at the Reformation that continues to splinter every year – is by now deep-seated and inherited. Many Protestants strive to follow Christ with their whole lives, without having a clear idea that they are even protesting anything, let alone what it is or what the Catholic Church teaches. These divisions sadden me deeply.
I am saddened, too, by so many good and holy Christians cut off, by choices of their ancestors, from the deep communion with Christ found in the Eucharist, the wellspring of Sacramental grace in the Church, and the traditional practices that interweave our faith with our daily life.
At times in my life, I have worked on collaborative projects with other Christians, sharing what we can. Though far from achieving complete communion with one another, these types of projects do bring a degree of unity among Christians.
My first good job was at an “inter-denominational” school that was almost entirely run by Protestants. It was a lovely school with good people who took teaching, education and living a Christian life seriously. The parents (unlike parents at many schools) knew that they were on the same side as the teachers – that we teachers were helping them raise their children to know God. They taught me a lot about being a Christian parent.
At times while there, I was bewildered, unsure that we were even talking about the same faith. Their language of faith took time to learn, but when I did, I was able to appreciate their insights about the obstacles to living the faith.
At other times, I naively tried to convince my colleagues to even consider turning toward Rome through intellectual argument, but I realized very few people are willing to break from the tradition of their parents and grandparents from intellectual argument alone. They need to see the richness of Christian life lived in the Church – and that I can’t show them if they aren’t interested.
As an adult, do I even pray for Christian unity, or do I regard it as an impossible dream? Do I work toward unity by collaborating with other Christians when I can, and by sharing the fullness of Christian life found in the Church? When I work for unity, do I trust God to make that unity complete, or do I think that convincing others to turn toward Rome is entirely up to me?
Now, after years of living and working among Protestants, I have begun a list of ways we can work toward unity.
Work together with other Christians when we can. Learn from them when we are able. Attend or otherwise celebrate the baptisms of friends and their children, even if they are not baptized as babies. Invite others into our liturgical lives. Respect the freedom of others. Recognize when we have to stand apart to fully live a Christian life. Most of all, trust and pray to God to bring renewed unity to his Church.