One of the last things for which Jesus prayed while He was still among us was unity. It was His hope that all mankind - men and women of all races, creeds and beliefs - recognize their shortcomings, put aside their prejudices, and come together to rejoice in the Gift that God has given to us all: redemption, freedom from ignorance and illusion, and the grace to love one another as He loved us.
Jesus was a dreamer. He was a man of integrity. His was a message of empowerment; he was a champion to those on the fringe - considered by some to be a prophet, a rabbi and teacher to others, the Son of God to those who came to know Him well. And He was a very troublesome embarrassment to those in mainstream religion.
He took a very small and diverse group of people, gathered them together around Himself, breathed His life-giving Spirit into their hearts and sent them into the world to do the very same thing. He ordained no priests, established no hierarchy of power, constituted no code of law except one: that we love one another as He loved us.
Unity doesn't come easily. For all our talk and discussions about it, throughout centuries of prayer pleading for it, and despite the valiant, yet sporadic moments in our history when we came close to it, we still have miles to go.
It's relatively easy to look at the world situation to see the state of chaos that we are in. There is still famine in Africa, bitter hatred in the Middle East and still the threat of terrorism the world over. Wars still rage, whether they be on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan, or in the differences of religious beliefs, or in the hearts of neighbors who can't get along. Clearly, unity doesn't come easily.
However, it's much more difficult to look within, and honestly admit that there exists disunity in our own household: our Church.
The Church has the mission of "handing on" the faith to successive generations. It is not allowed to dilute, change or manipulate it. However, the message we proclaim sometimes seems to become increasingly distant from the original dream of Jesus.
Ours is a Church embroiled in scandal, where some of our leaders seem to be more concerned about their own autonomy and accountability than they are about doing what is right and just, and who don't seem to understand that all of this will not "just go away." One wonders how serious some of the hierarchy may be about protecting God's children.
We find ourselves in a community where, despite a paucity of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, official discussion of an inclusive priesthood is still forbidden; where clerical and lay groups alike pick apart our liturgical worshipping practices despite the clamor for spirituality among our people, and where many of our bishops, theologians and even our lay people are afraid to speak out for fear of being labeled dissidents or provoking Vatican reprimand.
We are a strange and arrogant group. As a group we have never been so polarized; we have never strayed so far from the original integrity of Gospel. We are as close as it comes to the definition of a "dysfunctional family."
But we are family nonetheless.
If Jesus were among us today, He would still be asking a question He posed to His first disciples: "Have I been with you for so long, and still you do not know me?"
The real test of our commitment to Jesus' prayer for Unity is our willingness, not only to admit our own brokenness, but also to work to help each other become whole again, in His love. And this wholeness, this unity, does not come about through laws made by men, or by following the status quo, or by placing blame on "conservative thinking" or "progressive liberalism" or Western decadence and selfishness. It certainly does not come about by excluding our brothers and sisters from the rest of the community.
And it does not come with placing all of our hope in just one man - our newly elected pope, Francis. He is our shepherd, but we are all responsible for this community that we call church. It starts by admitting our own failures, looking toward the future (our future), and together building our community of faith towards growth.
Jesus prays that "all may be one." It does not come to us easily, and He understands that. He also knows that there is unity in multiplicity, that there is commonality in diversity, and that Tradition and Progress can mutually co-exist.
When we divide the community, when we feed the division of the community, when we profit by this division, we deny all those who lived their lives bearing witness to a faith that is above division; and we deny the efficacy of the prayer of Jesus "that they may be one, as we are one..."
The truth is that God answered Jesus' prayer. We are one as the Father and the Son are one. What is untrue is the division we practice. And if we do nothing about this division or continue to foster it, we run the risk of reducing the Gospel of Jesus to a religion about Jesus.
This unity of the church is not just an integrity within itself but integrity with God. When all is said and done, the integrity of a religious community, and its doctrines and beliefs, are finally judged by the kind of people it produces.
The ultimate question for us must be, "What kind of people does our church produce?"