Having recently read, Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI's book, Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, I found the following passage on Our Lord's prayer; "that they all may be one...." a good meditation for Holy Thursday, the day Christ gave Himself to us to be our strength and food, may we all be united in His Body!
"Uniquely in the Gospels, Jesus’ gaze now moves beyond the current community of disciples and is directed toward all those who “believe in me through their word” (Jn 17:20). The vast horizon of the community of believers in times to come opens up across the generations: the Church of the future is included in Jesus’ prayer. He pleads for unity for his future disciples.
The Lord repeats this plea four times. Twice the purpose of this unity is indicated as being that the world may believe, that it may “recognize” that Jesus has been sent by the Father: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (Jn 17:11). “That they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:21). “That they may be one even as we are one... that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me” (Jn 17:22-23).
No discourse on ecumenism ever lacks a reference to this “testament” of Jesus—to the fact that before he went to the Cross, he pleaded with the Father for the unity of his future disciples, for the Church of all times. And so it should be. Yet we have to ask with all the more urgency: For what unity was Jesus praying? What is his prayer for the community of believers throughout history?
It is instructive to hear Rudolf Bultmann once again on this question. He says first of all—as we read in the Gospel—that this unity is grounded in the unity of Father and Son, and then he continues: “That means it is not founded on natural or purely historical data, nor can it be manufactured by organizations, institutions or dogma; these can at best only bear witness to the real unity, as on the other hand they can also give a false impression of unity. And even if the proclamation of the word in the world requires institutions and dogmas, these cannot guarantee the unity of true proclamation. On the other hand the actual disunion of the Church, which is, in passing, precisely the result of its institutions and dogmas, does not necessarily frustrate the unity of the proclamation. The word can resound authentically, wherever the tradition is maintained. Because the authenticity of the proclamation cannot be controlled by institutions or dogmas, and because the faith that answers the word is invisible, it is also true that the authentic unity of the community is invisible... it is invisible because it is not a worldly phenomenon at all” (The Gospel of John, pp. 513-14).
These sentences are astonishing. Much of what they say might be called into question, the concept of “institutions” and “dogmas” to begin with, but even more so the concept of “proclamation”, which is said to create unity by itself. Is it true that the Revealer in his unity with the Father is present in the proclamation? Is he not often astonishingly absent? Now Bultmann gives us a certain criterion for establishing where the word resounds “authentically”: “wherever the tradition is maintained”. Which tradition? one might ask. Where does it come from; what is its content? Since not every proclamation is “authentic”, how are we to recognize it? The “authentic proclamation” is said to create unity by itself. The “actual disunion” of the Church cannot hinder the unity that comes from the Lord, so Bultmann claims.
Does this mean that ecumenism is rendered superfluous, since unity is created in proclamation and is not hindered through the schisms of history? Perhaps it is also significant that Bultmann uses the word “Church” when he speaks of disunion, whereas he uses the word “community” when considering unity. The unity of proclamation is not verifiable, he tells us. Therefore the unity of the community is invisible, just as faith is invisible. Unity is invisible, because “it is not a worldly phenomenon at all.”
Is this the correct exegesis of Jesus’ prayer? It is certainly true that the unity of the disciples—of the future Church—for which Jesus prays “is not a worldly phenomenon”. This the Lord says quite distinctly. Unity does not come from the world: on the basis of the world’s own efforts, it is impossible. The world’s own efforts lead to disunion, as we can all see. Inasmuch as the world is operative in the Church, in Christianity, it leads to schisms. Unity can only come from the Father through the Son. It has to do with the “glory” that the Son gives: with his presence, granted through the Holy Spirit, which is the fruit of the Cross, the fruit of Jesus’ transformation through death and Resurrection.
Yet the power of God reaches into the midst of the world in which the disciples live. It must be of such a kind that the world can “recognize” it and thereby come to faith. While it does not come from the world, it can and must be thoroughly effective in and for the world, and it must be discernible by the world. The stated objective of Jesus’ prayer for unity is precisely that through the unity of the disciples, the truth of his mission is made visible for men. Unity must be visible; it must be recognizable as something that does not exist elsewhere in the world; as something that is inexplicable on the basis of mankind’s own efforts and that therefore makes visible the workings of a higher power. Through the humanly inexplicable unity of Jesus’ disciples down the centuries, Jesus himself is vindicated. It can be seen that he is truly the “Son”. Hence God can be recognized as the creator of a unity that overcomes the world’s inherent tendency toward fragmentation.
For this the Lord prayed: for a unity that can come into existence only from God and through Christ and yet is so concrete in its appearance that in it we are able to see God’s power at work. That is why the struggle for the visible unity of the disciples of Jesus Christ remains an urgent task for Christians of all times and places. The invisible unity of the “community” is not sufficient.
Is there more that we can discern about the nature and content of the unity for which Jesus prayed? One essential element of this unity has already emerged from our considerations thus far: it depends on faith in God and in the one whom he sent: Jesus Christ. The unity of the future Church therefore rests on the faith that Peter proclaimed in the name of the Twelve in the synagogue at Capernaum, after other disciples had turned away: “We have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:69).
This confession is very close in content to the high-priestly prayer. Here Jesus encounters us as the one whom the Father has sanctified, who sanctifies himself for the disciples, who sanctifies the disciples in the truth. Faith is something more than a word, an idea: it involves entering into communion with Jesus Christ and through him with the Father. Faith is the real foundation of the disciples’ communion, the basis for the Church’s unity.
In its nucleus, this faith is “invisible”. But because the disciples unite themselves to the one Christ, faith becomes “flesh” and knits the individual believers together into a real “body”. The Incarnation of the Logos is perpetuated until the measure of Christ’s “full stature” is attained (cf. Eph 4:13)."