Agnieszka Ruck

They will know we are Christians by our love

Voices Jan. 15, 2019

"Some of my best moments in prayer were during Eucharistic Adoration, and some of the best sermons I've heard were at non-denominational Christian churches that meet in rented spaces because they don't have buildings of their own," Agnieszka Ruck writes. (Federation of Catholic University Students photo)

I don’t often cry at work. I’m an emotional person, but I keep it together in The B.C. Catholic newsroom, where we often analyze difficult subjects, study facts, and race to beat deadlines.

So, when a slightly adapted version of the Morning Offering was introduced as the new daily routine for staff at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre on Monday at 9 a.m., I was surprised to find my eyes welling up.

The prayer (a blessedly short and beautiful one) offers Jesus the work, joy, and suffering of the day for the salvation of souls, reparation of sins, the Pope’s intentions, and – this is what caught me off guard – the reunion of all Christians.

How often do we pray for the “reunion of all Christians” anymore? And mean it?

I spent most of my teenage years travelling to an evangelical high school on weekdays and to Mass on weekends. I have been buoyed by the joy and enthusiasm of praise and worship; I have been comforted by the solemnity of Mass. Some of my best moments in prayer were during Eucharistic Adoration, and some of the best sermons I’ve heard were at non-denominational Christian churches that meet in rented spaces because they don’t have buildings of their own.

Yet, I’ve often been looked down on for attending a Bible study, young adult group, or other event at a “non-Catholic” church. I’ve been deeply nourished by Christians from just about every denomination, so why pit ourselves against each other?

I take comfort in knowing I’m not the only one who cares so much about the “reunion of all Christians” that it brings tears to the eyes: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world,” Jesus prayed a short time before he was arrested.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you.”

The international Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is Jan. 18-25. Churches everywhere, including in Abbotsford, Coquitlam, and New Westminster, will celebrate joint prayer services with their Christian brothers and sisters that week.

I hope many local Catholics get involved, and I hope we don’t treat the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity as a token action once a year, like someone might give a can of soup to the food bank and call it social justice. I hope we mean what we do, say, and pray Jan. 18-25, and then for the rest of 2019.

One of the readings at Mass last week, from 1 John, put it simply: “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the son of God, God lives in them and they in God.”

Reunion. It means recognizing those Christians in the church down the street are children of God, too. It means getting to know them, and perhaps partnering with them in some kind of neighbourhood service. (In New Westminster, St. Peter’s Parish and the Anglican cathedral have been serving hot meals to the poor together for years. Several churches in Richmond do the same.)

Canada’s former religious freedom ambassador, Father Deacon Andrew Bennett, interviewed Chris Stackaruk in Convivium magazine this month. Stackaruk is the co-director of Neighbourly Faith, an organization that provides resources for evangelicals trying to interact with people of other faiths.

Father Deacon Bennett asked him: “How do you maintain that tension between wanting to engage the person of another faith in all honesty, but at the same time, hold true to your belief?”

Stackaruk responded: “I really don't think in practice that comes up as much as people think it does … We are not going to compel them. That is not what Christ calls us to. Jesus calls us to do many things of which we can do just as easily, which is love people, allow them freedoms to believe what they believe if they choose not to follow Christ, to be good neighbours to them. By their invitation, oftentimes when you are a good neighbour, you can share the great news of what Jesus Christ has done for them and for us.”

Bennett and Stackaruk were talking about relating to people of other faiths, but I believe the sentiment applies to ecumenical relationships. Too often Christians (consciously or not) treat other denominations as other faiths altogether.

Feel free to join us at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre in our morning prayer this year:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of  Your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and in particular for the Holy Father’s intentions this month. Amen.

Then, for the love of our dear Saviour, let’s stop acting like we’re on opposite teams.