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You shall love God … and your neighbour as yourself.

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

You shall love God … and your neighbour as yourself (Luke 10: 27).

This is the theme for the week of prayer for Christian Unity 2024, which happens January 18 – 25 between the Feast Days of St Peter (the 18th) and St Paul (the 25th) and focuses around the passage from St Luke 10: 25 – 37 and Jesus’ answer to the question “and who is my neighbour?”

This year during this week it is impossible for me to not focus on that question in a much wider connection than Christian Unity. The war in the Holy Land with its history and its present war highlights a larger circumference for understanding our need to unity and our neighbour. Yes, Christian Unity is important, important so that we can reach out and embrace our neighbours of other faiths, cultures, and all of creation in a united concern and from that infinite compassionate heart of God as one voice together.

It is interesting to note that in a week’s time, starting February 1st we will also be into another week of prayer, this time for World Interfaith Harmony Week. This observation has emerged from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution that seeks a worldwide celebration of interfaith harmony. The goal of the week-long celebration is to promote harmony between citizens of the world, regardless of their faith. It is a celebration of unity in diversity, and the divine connection between people and their faith. For me this year, holding these two together is important, indeed I believe it is vital.

Both the theme of the week of prayer for Christian Unity and the World Interfaith Harmony week hold as one the two common fundamental religious teachings — the love of God, and the love of the neighbour, these beliefs are central to all the major faiths. We hear clearly today the cry for goodwill for everyone. And we know the power of kindness, charity, and healing can enrich the lives of believers and make the world a better place. Praying for unity has as its most important goal to get people to realize that our common values of love, faith, and kindness easily outweigh our differences. With patience and humility, we could all make the world a wonderful place to live in — one where faith unites and religion is not a means of oppression. There is in the resource material for the week of prayer for Christian unity a wonderful sentence, “love is the DNA of our Christian faith”, and I believe that this is true for all the major faiths of the world. We reveal that love to the world by how we love one another. Our message is a message of Hope, a message of Mercy, a message of Life in a dark world – it is love that goes the distance.

The Holy Land, Jerusalem, has become a broken icon for me of “who is my neighbour” – a broken icon of “you shall love God and your neighbour as yourself”. What do we need to mend it?

 In a book “Teilhard De Chardin Book of Hours” there is a night hymn that I found meaningful in reflecting on perhaps what it is that we need to fix the broken icon.

“Make possible the flowering in the human heart of this new universal love,
So vainly dreamed of but now at last declaring itself as both possible and necessary.

Notice this: if people of the earth, all over the earth, are ever to love one another,
It is not enough for them to recognize in one another the elements of a single something.

They must also, by developing a ‘planetary’ consciousness, become aware they are becoming a single somebody.”

 I believe that perhaps this is the only way into the greater life of unity – a unity we long for, a unity we pray for, and unity that hopefully we are willing to work for and become one with. There is only one God, and we, of different faiths, are all travelling along different streets and avenues longing to deepen our relationship with God and with each other. That one God is also reaching out to everyone, whatever street, or avenue they walk, longing to embrace them with a tenacious and unconditional love.

It is during this week of prayer for UNITY more than at any other time, I resonate with De Chardin’s words “You have become for my mind and heart much more than God who was and who is: you have become God who shall be.”

Who is my neighbour? All are my relations. I want those invincible hands of God to so transform the world – through all of us relations, all of us neighbours, working together, for that great world God has in mind. Jerusalem our destiny – an icon of unity – where Jews, and Muslims, and Christians, and people of other faiths or no faith, can live together in peace and unity, in love of neighbour with everyone – all the people of the world: as part of the hymn says: (Jerusalem, My Destiny #493 in the Hymn Book “Gather”)

I have fixed my eyes on your hills, Jerusalem, my destiny!
Though I cannot see the end for me, I cannot turn away.
We have set our hearts for the way; this journey is our destiny.
Let no one walk alone. The journey makes us one.

Other spirits, lesser gods, have courted me with lies.
Here among you I have found a truth which bids me rise.

See, I leave the past behind; a new land calls to me.
Here among you now I find a glimpse of what might be.