Blessing and the Call to UnityI don’t remember when I first developed my passion for ecumenism. I suspect the seed of it was planted when I was conceived. But at some point, when I was perhaps in my late teens, I think God touched it and it burst into bloom. I felt I was made to reconcile and bridge. When I put my hand to the cause of unity, it fit me like my own skin. It is a part of God’s heart that he has shared with me, a facet of his image that he made me to reflect.
As I suppose any of us do with regard to our personal passions, I experience things that affect unity or division very deeply. Setbacks can inspire painful levels of grief, and victories provoke joy and gratitude that is nearly inexpressible. It seems to me that my spirit is always on the alert for signs of reconciliation, because whenever I witness or hear about one, whether as small as a personal conversation or as large as a Pope’s act of repentance, I cannot observe it passively. My heart leaps and all my faculties fix on it. It’s personal. It has happened to me. I have to rejoice; I have to praise God; I have to bless it.
I believe that this nearly visceral need I have to touch moments of unity by blessing them has its origin in the Holy Spirit. I am convinced that there is a profound connection between blessing and the healing of the Body of Christ.
Learning about the Power of Blessing It’s tempting to think that ‘blessing’ seems pretty passive, just a well-meaning word that has no more power to bridge centuries of denominational mistrust than a chorus of ‘It’s a Small World’ has to reverse continental drift. But I’m not talking about just saying ‘God bless you’ to someone. Like real loving, real blessing is not so much something you feel or say as something you do, probably in as many ways as there are people to bless. And it is the acts of blessing that do the work of dismantling walls, building bridges, healing wounds, and reconciling hearts.
At some point a few years ago, I heard God tell me to start encouraging my fellow Christians to bless one another. Looking back, I think the Lord tilled my heart for this word, preparing me to understand it by exposing me to acts of blessing that showed me their powerful reconciling potential. He primed me to appreciate them.
The first and most important such exposure happened when I was serving on the prayer ministry team at the Catholic renewal weekend in Sarnia, Ontario several years ago. As a Protestant with an ecumenical itch, I’ve always loved serving in Catholic contexts, but at this one, I had a seminal experience of the kind of blessing I believe God intends for us to practice.
During a talk that afternoon, a young priest told the story of his meeting with a Protestant minister in his city. The minister had requested the lunch appointment, and while they were eating together, he disclosed to the priest that he had been brought up in a Catholic family. He went on to confess that when he was very young he had had a profound sense that God was calling him to the priesthood. He had responded to this sense with a promise to the Lord to become a priest. As a young adult, however, he wandered away from his relationship with the Lord. Eventually, he recommitted his life to Christ through the evangelistic efforts of Protestants, married, entered seminary and finally became ordained as a pastor. But now he was eaten up with guilt. Unable to forget his early promise, he was now nagged by the thought that he had broken his vow and that God could never really be pleased with his ministry or his marriage. The priest responded with a compassion that the minister may have hoped for, but the words he spoke had a more powerful affect than mere sympathy could ever have achieved. He reached out to the minister and said, ‘You have fulfilled your vocation.’
Those words lifted a burden of guilt in a way that I suppose any Catholic might expect priestly words of absolution to do. But because of the denominational gap, and because they did not come with any conditions, they were an act of blessing with more reconciling power than the priest who spoke them may have imagined.
Certainly he didn’t suspect the affect they had on me. I wept. I was overcome with a personal gratitude to this priest. I felt as though I myself had been unburdened, as though my own ministry had been declared valid and valuable. I felt that a subtle but solid barrier that had stood between this Catholic and me, a barrier that had gone all but unnoticed because it had been accepted and taken for granted, had suddenly crumbled.
I had been blessed.
The Call to Bless One Another As I look back on that moment, it amazes me that I knew I was experiencing a blessing. I don’t remember anyone actually using that word at the time. But the experience was so profound, so tangibly of the Spirit, that I can literally call it a defining moment. Through that experience, the Holy Spirit provided me with a definition of blessing far beyond any of the hollow impressions I had had up to that point.
But I got a lot more than a definition; I got a foretaste of my heart’s desire. That blessing had the power to unite far more than two individual men. I know this because it carried an anointing of reconciliation that touched me and is still reverberating in my life. It left me with an increasingly tender heart toward my Catholic brethren and a reasonable hope for the unity of all Christians. It left me with an irrepressible desire to emulate it. And it left me with a mandate from the Lord to tell all my brothers and sisters in Christ to bless one another.