If you have never attempted to read portions of the Bible in a language other than your native tongue, I encourage you to try to do so, because certain words and phrases will tend to “jump out” at you, even in passages with which you are most familiar, and this will give you food for thought and prayer. My own second languages, though quite rudimentary, are Latin and French, and I have purchased a Bible in each of those languages. From time to time I actually open them and read a bit, with my Latin-English and French-English dictionaries close at hand. Of course, having my English language Bible open, paralleling the other translation, is most helpful; but I try, first, to struggle toward a direct understanding in the second language, and that is usually when something strikes me in a new way.
The past few days I have been working through John 17 in Latin, the chapter in which is found the quite well-known phrase, “ut unum sint,” meaning, “that they may be one.” In fact, an ecumenical Christian conference which I attended in 1999 was entitled, “Ut Unum Sint,” and had been convened at the request of Pope John Paul II for the purpose of real dialogue between Protestant and Othodox communities along with the Catholic Church, concerning the question, “Is the papacy a hindrance or a help to Christian unity?” A very provocative question. And church leaders at the highest levels (including the president of the evangelical Fuller Seminary, from which I had graduated, Cardinal Cassidy from Rome, and leaders from all major Protestant denominations who had been convening regularly in ecumenical discussions for over twenty-five years) responded and came to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota for a remarkable weekend together. Anyone, including people like me, was cordially invited to take part in the conference, so two or three dozen of us various types of Christians (I was an evangelical Lutheran at the time) did so. As the weekend progressed, my female Lutheran pastor roommate and I agreed that the most striking thing about this particular conference was the gentleness, pastoral respect, and what one could honestly call love predominating in that atmosphere, among very powerful men and women attempting to move a bit closer to fulfilling the desire of Jesus, “ut unum sint,” “that they may be one,” in His great prayer of John 17. In fact, having seen such Christian love up close among church leaders that weekend, I was endowed with eyes to see some of that same kind of love when the media showed Pope Benedict receiving with great cordiality the cardinals, one after the other, on his last day in the Chair of Peter.
Now in reading John 17 in Latin, this is what struck me this week: Jesus’ repetition, his emphasis upon, his great desire that his followers enter into the very same unity of mind and heart which the three divine Persons constantly enjoy. “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God Almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever”: “Ut unum sint,” is affirmed by all of God’s people at the end of our Eucharistic Prayers.
One can’t help but be reminded of Psalm 133: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Surely a cry from the depths of any parent’s heart, and how much more so from the heart of the Redeemer himself, our Father and Brother and Advocate, the Living God!
Jesus’ repetition of such a desire for unity includes, in verses 11 and 21-23 of John 17, some extra emphases: “ut sint unum sicut nos,”(v.11) …even as we are one, Father; “ut omnes unum sint,”(v.21a)….that they all might be one; “ut et ipsi in nobis unum sint,”(v.21b)….that they may also be one in us; “ut sint unum sicut nos unum sumus” (v.22)….even as we are one, Father; “ut sint consummati in unum” (v.23)….that they may be perfectly one. If there’s one thing that comes across powerfully, here, it is that Jesus is simply not going to let us, any of us, off the hook when it comes to this issue!
Back in chapter 2, verses 24 and 25, remember John telling us that, after Jesus had performed miracles and had begun to be praised by many, “… Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.” If there’s anything “in man” of which Jesus is certain, it is that the temptation to pride and self-assertion and the desire to wield private judgment which goes along with these tendencies, is something which is always plaguing human relationships and threatening to destroy our witness to his identity in this world. Because of this reality, “ut unum sint,” this intense desire of the Lord for his followers, is nothing less than a supernatural gift, no less supernatural than the power to forgive others, which Jesus made to be his emphasis in the Our Father–a request he keeps before our eyes and places in our mouths daily.
In my next posts, I’ll concentrate on what is necessary in order for us Christians to open ourselves to the supernatural power God would bestow upon us, “ut unum sint,” that we might truly be one. I’ll share some wisdom from the Church’s treasury of gifted thinkers and writers, centering on unity and genuine Christian love. Veni Sancte Spiritus. -JC