Reflection: The power of unity

By Father Chris Thomas

In 1977 I met a community in Liverpool that consisted of two nuns from different orders, a priest, and two families who were from a Free Church background but who all lived together in peace and harmony. That community was the basis of the Kirkby Christian Fellowship and those who led and still lead it became life-long friends. What has united us over the years is a common experience of the Spirit and a belief that the Spirit is calling us towards what Pope Francis calls ‘unity in diversity.’

We have just celebrated Pentecost and surely the greatest gift of the Spirit is unity. With the dawn of the Second Vatican Council, documents were produced that seemed to stretch out the hand of friendship to people of other traditions. We were allowed to pray with others of different understandings. We gathered in each other’s churches to pray for Christian unity. That was the work of the Spirit. There was hope and enthusiasm among the Church traditions that had never been felt before. It wasn’t a negating of Catholicism, as some thought, but an awareness of what the Spirit was doing across the churches and a moving with that Spirit.

For me, one of the greatest scandals in the Church is disunity; not difference but disunity. We can do things differently and still be united, but too often suspicion and finger-pointing rear their ugly head. Too often a mix of power struggles, jockeying for position and wanting our own way acts to destroy the simple call to be united in love. I’m sure that’s why Jesus in John’s Gospel prays for unity. We can’t go it alone. It’s together that we make a difference.

The early Church knew the power of unity and knew that unity would be its greatest sign to the world of a God who had brought people together and kept them together in the face of opposition and persecution; people who were willing to stand for love at all costs. It takes the power of the Spirit to make that happen and so Jesus prays ‘that they may all be one’.

The greatest witness we have today is unity. What will convince the world of the presence of God is certainly not moralising or dogmatic statements but people who come together in love to share love with one another and the world; people who know how to stand with those in need; people who know how to celebrate love and life together. My prayer for Pentecost, therefore, would be for the spirit of God to sweep across this country and free us from all that would stop us being united.