Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
"Catechesis on the Week of Prayer for Christian
January 18, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done
for them by my Father in heaven"
(Mt 18: 19). This solemn assurance of Jesus to his disciples also
sustains our prayer.
The "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity", by now a tradition, begins
today. It is an important event for reflecting on the tragedy of the
division of the Christian community and to ask with Jesus himself
"that they may all be one... so that the world may believe" (Jn 17:
21). We also do so here today, in harmony with a great multitude
throughout the world.
Indeed, prayer "for the union of all" involves Catholics, Orthodox
and Protestants, brought together in different forms, times and ways
by the same faith in Jesus Christ, the one Lord and Saviour.
Prayer for unity
is part of the central nucleus which the Second Vatican Council
calls "the soul of the whole ecumenical movement" (Unitatis
n. 8), a nucleus
that includes public and private prayers, conversion of heart and
holiness of life. This vision takes us back to the heart of the
ecumenical problem, which is obedience to the Gospel in order to do
God's will with his necessary and effective help.
The Council explicitly pointed this out to the faithful, declaring:
"The closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit,
the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual
brotherly love" (ibid., n. 7).
The elements that, despite the persistent division, still unite
Christians, make it possible to raise a common prayer to God. This
communion in Christ sustains the entire ecumenical movement and
indicates the very purpose of the search for unity of all Christians
in God's Church. It is what distinguishes the ecumenical movement
from any other initiative of dialogue and relations with other
religions and ideologies.
In this too, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council's Decree on
Ecumenism is precise: "Taking part in this movement, which is called
ecumenical, are those who invoke the Triune God and confess Jesus as
Lord and Saviour" (ibid., n. 1).
The common prayers that are prayed throughout the world,
particularly in this period or around Pentecost, also express the
desire for a common commitment to re-establish communion among all
Christians. These prayers in common "are certainly a very effective
means of petitioning for the grace of unity" (ibid., n. 8).
With this affirmation, the Second Vatican Council basically
interprets what Jesus said to his disciples when he assured them
that if two of them were to agree on earth about anything for which
they were to ask the Father who is in Heaven, he would grant it,
"because" where two or three are gathered in his name he is in their
After the Resurrection he assured them further that he would be with
them "always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28: 20). It is Jesus'
presence in the community of disciples and in our prayer itself
which guarantees its effectiveness, to the point that he promised:
"whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and
whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 18:
However, let us not limit ourselves to imploring. We can also thank
the Lord for the new situation that, with effort, has been created
in ecumenical relations among Christians in brotherhood rediscovered
through the establishment of strong ties of solidarity, the growth
of communion and the forms of convergence achieved - certainly, in
an unequal manner - between the various dialogues.
There are many reasons to give thanks. And if there is still so much
to hope for and to do, let us not forget that God has given us a
great deal on our way towards unity. Let us therefore be grateful to
him for these gifts.
The future lies
before us. The Holy Father John Paul II of happy memory - who did
and suffered so much for the ecumenical cause - has opportunely
taught us that "an appreciation of how much God has already given is
the condition which disposes us to receive those gifts still
indispensable for bringing to completion the ecumenical work of
Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us continue to pray, because we
know that the holy cause of the restoration of Christian unity
exceeds our poor human efforts and that unity, finally, is a gift of
In this regard and with these sentiments, I will be following in
John Paul II's footsteps next Wednesday, 25 January, the Feast of
the Conversion of the Apostle to the Gentiles, in the Basilica of St
Paul Outside-the-Walls to pray with our Orthodox and Protestant
brethern: to pray to thank the Lord for what he has granted us; to
pray that the Lord will guide us in the footprints of unity.
In addition, my first Encyclical will finally be published that same
day, 25 January; its title is already known: "Deus Caritas Est",
"God is love". The theme is not directly ecumenical, but the
context and background are ecumenical because God and our love are
the condition for Christian unity. They are the condition for peace
in the world.
In this Encyclical I desire to show the concept of love in its
various dimensions. Today, in the terminology with which we are
familiar, "love" often appears very far from what a Christian thinks
when he speaks of charity.
For my part, I would like to show that this is a single impulse with
various dimensions. The "eros", this gift of love between a man and
a woman, comes from the same source, the Creator's goodness, as the
possibility of a love that gives itself for the sake of the other.
The "eros" becomes "agape" to the extent that the two truly love
each other and no longer seek themselves, their own joy and their
own pleasure, but seek above all the good of the other.
Thus, this love which is "eros" is transformed into charity in a
process of purification and deepening. From its own family it is
opened to the greater family of society, the family of the Church,
the family of the world.
I also endeavour to show that the very personal act that comes to us
from God is a unique act of love. It must also be expressed as an
ecclesial and organizational act.
If it is true that the Church is an expression of God's love, of
that love God feels for his human creature, it must also be true
that the fundamental act of faith, which creates and unites the
Church and gives us the hope of eternal life and of God's presence
in the world, gives rise to an ecclesial act. In practice, the
Church must also love as a Church, as a community, institutionally.
And this so-called "Caritas" is not a mere organization like other
philanthropic organizations, but a necessary expression of the
deepest act of personal love with which God has created us,
awakening in our hearts the impulse to love, a reflection of the
God-Love who makes us in his image.
It took time to prepare and translate the text. It now seems to me a
gift of Providence, the fact that the text should be published on
the very day on which we will pray for Christian unity. I hope that
it will be able to illuminate and help our Christian life.
To special groups
I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors
present at today's Audience, and in particular to the groups from
Sweden, South Korea and the United States of America. Upon you and
your families I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.
I would also like to offer a special greeting to the circus people
present in Rome in these days. I thank them for the beautiful
performance and I encourage them always to show their faith in
Lastly, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick
and the newly-weds. Dear friends, during these days of prayer
for Christian unity I ask you, dear young people, to be
everywhere, and especially among your peers, apostles of faithful
adherence to the Gospel; I ask you, dear sick people, to
offer your suffering for the full communion of all Christ's
disciples; I urge you, dear newly-weds, to become more and
more of one heart and one mind and to live in your families the
"commandment of love".
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