The Sword of the Spirit
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 18-25, 2018
Called to Love, Unity,
and Mission Together
“All will know that you are my disciples
if you have love for one another”
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an eight-day observance or “octave” of prayer. It has been this way from the beginnings of this international movement in 1908. Following are a set of eight daily scripture readings, a short commentary on the readings and a prayer. This set of materials was developed by the Sword of the Spirit for use within local communities and households during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity held around the world between January 18-25, 2018.
Included with the common readings and prayers are some additional questions to help individuals and families participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We would encourage families to take some time to engage the readings and prayers for each day and talk about them together, perhaps around the dinner table or in family worship time. Please feel free to adapt or change them as helpful. In particular the ‘questions for reflection’ will benefit from adaptations or expansion to best match the ecumenical reality in each local situation.
We have also included a short Lord’s Day prayer that can be inserted in the section following the Blessing of the Wine which can be used like the other seasonal variations in the Lord’s Day prayers.
Please use these materials in any way you find most helpful in your personal and family worship times during this season of prayer.
Note: The Psalms listed here follow the numbering of the Hebrew tradition.
Wednesday, January 24
Through love we humbly and fervently pray for the Lord to reconcile and restore all his people in the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 2:14 and 4:3)
- Genesis 45:4-15 Joseph forgives his brothers and restores them in a bond of peace and unity
- Psalm 126 Those who sow in tears [of mourning and repentance] will reap with shouts of joy
- Psalm 81 When God’s people cry out to him with repentant hearts he restores them
- Ephesians 2:14 & 4:1-4 Reconciled and called to unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace
- Matthew 26:31-35,40 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation and be scattered like sheep without a shepherd
Commentary: Christ died for us on the cross to reconcile us with the Father and to break down the diving wall of hostility so that we may be joined together in unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:13-14). How does Christ want us to live together in unity? Unity is first and foremost a gift of the Holy Spirit, but like any gift, we need to learn how to grow in using it the way God intended. Paul lists a set of character traits (virtues that make us like Christ) that are essential for living together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Lowliness and meekness are companion virtues that curb pride and self-centeredness (preoccupation with self). Lowliness (also called humility) enables us to see ourselves truthfully as God sees us and to rely on God to place us wherever he wills and with whomever he wishes us to serve. Meekness tempers our emotions and drives so we can channel them for good and not for harm or wrongdoing.
Patience and forbearance enable us to persevere in doing good for others, especially when we meet difficulties and trials. They enable us to bear with failure and weaknesses and bear one another’s burdens. Love and its companion qualities (kindness and mercy) unite these virtues and direct them to the welfare and service of others.
We are called to live peaceably with one another. Peace is more than just the absence of conflict. It is a full and right relationship of love, mercy, and kindness towards one another made possible through the grace and work of the Holy Spirit who dwells with us. Let us pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to restore the whole people of God in the bond of peace and unity.
Questions for Reflection:
- Do you strive to live peaceably, as far as it is possible and depends on you, with all your brothers and sisters in Christ?
- Do you strive, with the grace and help of the Holy Spirit, to grow in lowliness (humility), meekness, patience, brotherly love, and charity?
- Pray earnestly that your community and all Christian communities may grow in love, peace, and unity together.
Prayer on behalf of the whole people of God: Heavenly Father, grant us humility to hear your voice, to receive your call, and to cooperate with your work of restoring all your people to the unity you desire. Where division and our sin has left us with hearts of stone, may the fire of your Holy Spirit inflame our hearts and inspire us with the vision of being one in Christ, as he is one with you, so that the world may believe that you have sent him. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Good Soil and Open Doors
Latin America is not the most fertile soil to work for Christian unity. The historical background is grim and can be painful in many ways. Many good Christians have resentment against Christians of other traditions around them. There is, however, also much hope and opportunities where we see growth in ecumenism.
Starting in 2008, in the context of our Summer Mission Program, we began giving a talk on ecumenism to pass on more vision to the youth coming from communities that have only one Christian tradition. In 2012 this evolved into a four-session course that we would teach every summer to groups of young people gathered together from Central America. My main experience talking to young people from all-Catholic communities was finding a big lack of information but at the same time a significant desire to make a change in their hearts and work towards Christian unity.
Many of these young people had never heard about the painful stories of division in the Body of Christ. Neither had they ever heard about the important steps towards unity that many Christians have taken in the past 150 years. However, as we call them on to understand and embrace the reality of historical division and to be convicted about the importance of working for Christian unity, I was struck by the great desire and openness they have to foster Christian unity even in contexts that are hostile towards ecumenism. The mission and way of life of our communities provide an excellent context for our youth to promote Christian unity as we evangelize and work for the needy.
Another experience I’ve had in recent years is working alongside my father teaching the same ecumenism course in the Central Seminary in San José. We give future priests four lectures about unity and provide opportunities to spend time with leaders of other Christian traditions including an Anglican Bishop, an Orthodox priest and an Evangelical Pastor. This is a very significant experience for future Catholic priests in Costa Rica but also for the leaders of these other traditions as it opens friendly channels of dialogue and fellowship.
We can feel a limitation from our contexts and feel like we don’t have much to contribute to ecumenism. However, we can ask the Lord to open unexpected doors to us and to give us the grace to enter then so that we can keep building unity in the Body of Christ.
Miguel Vargas is a member of the Servants of the Word. He lives in “Arbol de Vida” community in San Jose, Costa Rica and serves in mission to young people throughout Central America.