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Praying for the Church (Part 3):

If the Church is to carry out its mission, “for all men”, it must first be the church. It must first be the community of reconciliation which it proclaims. And so the first petition for the church itself, is that God would “inspire continually the Universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord: And grant, that all they who do confess thy holy Name may agree in the truth of thy holy Word, and live in unity, and godly love”. For the Church to carry out its mission, its first priority must be unity in truth and love: not truth at the expense of love; not love at the expense of truth, but the unity that arises from truth and love. Whatever one thinks of the ACNA, they are right to proclaim: “no compromise of truth, no limitation of love”.

What happens when the claims of truth trump the claims of love? harsh, legalistic judgmentalism. What happens when the claims of love trump the claims of truth? sentimental enabling of destructive passions. It’s only in the context of love that the claims of truth can be truly made, and actually heard; it is only in the context of truth, that love wills the actual good of the beloved. But where truth is spoken in love, and only where truth is spoken in love, genuine reconciliation, genuine unity can emerge.

Such unity in truth and love is hard. But if we believe the gospel, then we know we are much worse than we like to believe, and we are more loved than we dare think possible. God keeps on loving us, despite all our flaws, but he calls us to repentance. In that faith we are able to face the truth about ourselves, in the confidence of an unconditional love–and in that truth and love, we can repent, and be changed. Unity – unity with God, unity with other believers, unity in truth and love, is the gift of Christ to those who repent and believe the gospel, a gift of the Spirit, who inspires (breathes into) the body of Christ the quickening “spirit of truth, unity, and concord”. What the Spirit has given us, is ours to maintain “with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love” (Ephesians 1:1-3). Once again, the later intercession read at daily Prayer develops the thought: “we pray for the good estate of the Catholic Church; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.”

If we have believed the gospel, if our faith and hope finds expression in this prayer, we would be ready to speak the truth in love to one another, and we would be ready to listen for that truth, even when it comes to us from our most severe critics. We would have a model for community that might make the world envious. In my experience (including myself in that category) Christians are not particularly good at this. So we might linger a little over this first paragraph in the Prayer for the Church, and ponder where God might be showing us a way for us to walk in.
Thou, who at thy first Eucharist didst pray
That all thy Church might be for ever one,
Grant us at every Eucharist to say
With longing heart and soul, Thy will be done.
O may we all one bread, one body be,
Through this blest sacrament of unity.

For all thy Church, O Lord, we intercede;
Make thou our sad divisions soon to cease;
Draw us the nearer each to each, we plead,
by drawing all to thee, O Prince of Peace;
Thus may we all one bread, one body be,
Through this blest sacrament of unity.