Ecumenism of Tears: A Reflection for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Jan 22nd, 2014 | By | Category: Blog Posts

As I quoted from Pope Francis in yesterday’s post, in our times there is an ecumenism of blood binding together persecuted Christians. Without meaning to detract from this rich expression, it seems to follow from it that Christians also can share in an ecumenism of tears. Do we shed tears over our divisions? If not, why not?

Giotto di Bondone’s Crucifixion Fresco, Arena Chapel, Padua

When I came to believe the teachings of the Catholic Church, and consequently left my Reformed faith, my parents cried. I remember the awful feeling I had one night when, in conversation about our theological divisions, my sister began crying. Of course, my wife cried on many occasions throughout this evolution. Perhaps more than anyone, I cried. At least for myself, these tears were often selfish, brought about by frustration over how tiring the experience had become, or over how badly I felt about disappointing others. These were not tears tending toward Christian unity.

But at times I also cried simply and generously, as when I would pray in a quiet church, reflecting on the history of Christian schism. I’ll admit, I stopped crying once I entered the Catholic Church, almost certainly because I stopped reflecting carefully on the profoundness of our disunity.

As I said yesterday, we Christians are not merely friends, but brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 2:11-12.) If a brother or sister runs away from home, what is the half-life of our grief over this separation? With true fraternal love, which must be our ambition, the grief would be unending. For me, in discussing ecumenism with my separated brothers and sisters, it is frighteningly easy to shrug off the outcome of their theological analysis — to shake the dust from my mental sandals after giving them a piece of my mind.

An ecumenism of tears shed on account of our disunity would do wonders to heal our divisions. And there is plenty to grieve besides just our divisions. We also can cry in grief for the sins of the whole world, which is in so much need of Christian love and Truth. Consider, for example, the grieving mothers living in war-torn Syria. Or, on this January 22nd, consider those experiencing grief following abortion. Finally, let us reflect on the tears shed by Mary at the foot of the cross, as she watched her precious Son, whose hour had come, give up His life “that they may all be one.” (John 17:1,21.)

Surely the flowing together of these waters can nourish the soil of ecumenism within our own hearts.

Lord Jesus, may we be united through an ecumenism of tears with our separated brothers and sisters. By your grace, may we realize our shared grief over the sins of this world, and over the ways in which our disunity fails to shine forth your light to all nations. Amen.

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  1. Thanks for this beautiful reflection, Tom. In my conversations with both Catholics and non-Catholics, I often appeal to Jesus’s perspective in hope that we may collectively see our divisions through His eyes and with His heart, especially as he reveals it in John 17. I have found that this approach quickly releases any sense of antagonism (which divides) and replaces it with Christ’s love, which seeks to unite. The more our apologetics gets people on both “sides” to see themselves–together–through Christ’s loving gaze, the more our hearts may be opened to remember why we are in the conversation in the first place, out of love of God and each other.

    May this website continue to be a place where those whose hearts break over the divisions that exist between brothers and sisters in Christ can reach out to each other in open, respectful dialogue and become better able to receive all the gifts that Jesus wants to pour out on those who believe in him, most especially the gift of unity.


  2. Tom,

    Thank you for this challenge to all of us, brother. At rare moments, I have cried over the disunity among Christians, but much more often, I have simply allowed myself to sink into a kind of weariness, and even resignation, over it– as though there were not actually much hope for visible unity of all Christians in this life. Thank you for reminding me to rightly grieve and yet not lose hope on this front. May God continue to work in the hearts of all professing Christians (including my heart!) to bring us all together to full, visible unity!

  3. Dear D. and Christopher,

    Thank you for contributing!

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  4. I don’t often shed tears, but I often long for unity. This reminds me to continue to foster that longing, rather than turning from it simply because of the pain or perceived impossibility of attainment. Thanks for the reminder!

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