We Are One Body

In 1908 an Anglican priest who headed a Franciscan-based community at Greymoor farm about one hour up the Hudson River from NYC wanted to do something to promote unity among all Christians. Fr. Lewis Wattson felt that God was calling him and his order, the Society of the Atonement, to work to fulfill the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”

His idea was the Octave of Christian Unity, an eight day period of prayer that would begin on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (known in Protestant communities as the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter) and conclude on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The early support of Pope St. Pius X for this mid-January week of prayer gave it a distinctly Catholic spin, and was an early example of an ecumenical rapprochement with the world’s Protestant communities.

This week we at Saint Ignatius join with Christians around the world as we continue this tradition of prayer for the reunification of all followers of Christ. Our Prayer Service for Christian Unity reminds us that despite all of the strife that religious divisions have caused, and continue to cause, there is more to unite us than to separate us.

Our Wednesday prayer service will be led by De’Shaun Adair ’14, a former Christian Action Team leader and present member of the Arrupe Neighborhood Partnership staff. De’Shaun belongs to St. Paul’s AME Church in the Puritas-Longmead neighborhood where he not only serves as a Youth Minister, but also helps his pastor by living out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – just as he did with C.A.T. when he was a student at Saint Ignatius.

Not only does De’Shaun do the nitty-gritty of the Lord’s work, but he also has been gifted with the ability to preach the Lord’s word with an eloquence way beyond his years. Six years ago De’Shaun invited his teachers to come and hear him preach at his parish on a Sunday morning. The music was electric, the singing was full-voiced, but nothing could compare with the young man who confidently strode to the pulpit and held the crowd spellbound with his ability to make the Good News come alive.

Now as a licensed minister, preparing for his ordination into the itinerant ministry of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, De’Shaun is preparing for a life of service to the Body of Christ. His theme for our prayer service will focus on that image of the Church as the Body of Christ and emphasize the fact that all of us – no matter our gender, race, status or background – have a role to play in building up that Body in preparation for our shared life in the Kingdom.

De’Shaun and all those who strive to answer the call to unity made by Jesus at the Last Supper honor the legacy of Fr. Wattson, a man who took that call so seriously that in 1909 – only one year after the institution of the Octave of Christian Unity – he and his entire religious community at Graymoor were received into the Catholic Church.

Today, the Franciscan Friars of Atonement are a thriving community of Catholic men and women who are dedicated to” the unity of all and the healing of the broken and those who have lost their way.” Fr. Wattson has been declared a Servant of God, one of the first steps to being officially declared a saint, and their home at Graymoor is a thriving center of pilgrimage and prayer whose grounds include shrines and chapels as well as a memorial to the victims of 9/11 – a memorial constructed by Ironworkers Local 40 from steel girders recovered from the site of the World Trade Center.

That cross, the work of the Friars and the words of De’Shaun remind us that the struggle for unity is ongoing and will not be completed until the Second Coming of our Lord. They also remind us that the unity we seek is not an option, but – to use the words of St. Paul quoted by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium) which is the worldwide theme of this year’s prayer week – “the love of Christ compels us.”