Last Thursday we duly fulfilled our democratic obligations by casting our votes; the new Scottish Parliament has been established, reflecting the political preferences of the people of Scotland. Is everyone happy with the final outcome? That’s quite unlikely, but the majority of voters ought to be content – that’s the nature of democracy. The most common declaration made by every winning party in every democratic country is the promise to serve the whole nation, regardless of people’s individual political sympathies. Although undoubtedly such a declaration is always well-intended, its implementation is hardly ever successful. Personally I’m not surprised by that; I’d be pretty amazed if someone actually managed to pull off such a feat.
In today’s gospel Jesus is praying for his closest followers, the Apostles, and for all those who will follow in their footsteps in faith: ‘Father, may they all be one. […] May they be completely one.’ That unity is to serve a greater purpose: ‘So that the world may believe.’ Such unity is to be a sign capable of convincing the divided world that Jesus is the genuine Son of God and the proponent of unconditional love. When we look back at the historical evidence, this project seems to have failed. Over the centuries Christendom has been split and divided many times over. Christian communities have declared themselves to be the true keepers of the faith and have labelled the others as heretical. Some of those conflicts have led to bloodbaths or even to open warfare. Recently I’ve been an incidental witness to a spat between two individuals involved in an argument over some minor aspects of a Christian religious movement in which they had been involved. Within an hour or so, after a short exchange of messages on a social media website, one was blocked by the other.
I think the problem with the concept of ‘unity’ is that too many people, particularly those in positions of power, confuse ‘unity’ with ‘uniformity’. Such confusion of these terms leads to the conclusion that whoever disagrees with me is my opponent that I have to either sway or outplay. In reality, it’s the diversity of opinions and points of view that propels change and social advancement. Uniformity leads to stagnation, complacency and regression. So, what is Jesus praying for when he pleads for his followers’ ‘unity’?
Christian unity gets its goodness from the combination of its source, its views, its affections and its aims. The most important common aspect, and the source of our unity, is that we are all redeemed by Jesus, baptised in the name of the Holy Trinity and filled with the Holy Spirit. The unitive Christian goal is to get to know God in his fullness, or – in other words – that we want to know the ultimate truth. The unitive Christian affection is that we all desire goodness and we want to share it with others. The last, but most important aspect of Christian unity is the ultimate objective that we share: it’s to experience God’s unconditional love for ourselves, and to make such an experience available to others.
To sum up this boring lecture of mine: as Christians, we are united by the love that God the Father shows for us in his Son through the Holy Spirit. That’s the source of our unity. We are called to grow in that love and to respond to it by loving the people we come across, and in this way to reveal to them that they too are loved by God. The path that we choose to convey such a message effectively is a matter for our own abilities, skills and creativity, and most of all: our decisions.