The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 18th – 25th January


Following the guidelines offered by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, we ask you to consider and pray, individually or together with family or friends, these biblical reflections and prayers to accompany the annual call for Christians to acknowledge our discord and to hear again Christ’s call that we may be one as he and the Father are one.


Tuesday 18th January – Day 1

We observed his star in the East”

(Mt 2:2)

Raise us up and draw us to your perfect light

Readings

·        Psalm 139:1-10 – Your right hand shall hold me fast

·        2 Timothy 1:7-10 – This grace… has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus

Reflection

In this fragile and uncertain world, we look for light. We look for the good within ourselves, but often we are so overwhelmed by our weakness that hope fails us. Our confidence rests in God, who in wisdom, enables us to hope for his mercy. We are surprised when it comes in human form: Christ is the light in our midst! God’s gift to us is a ‘spirit of power, and love’. We are drawn forward on the way to this perfect light  by God’s Holy Spirit, not by relying on our own strength and ability.

In the midst of darkness, the star from the East penetrates the depths of the darkness that separates us from one another. The star’s light continues to shine and to change the face of history. Throughout the ages, by the lives of Christ’s followers, the world has come to know the hope that is inspired by the Holy Spirit. And the Risen One continues to shine, like a beacon guiding all into this perfect light and overcoming the darkness which separates us from one another.

The desire to overcome the darkness that separates us compels us to pray and work for Christian unity.

Prayer

Creator of light,

illumine our path by the light of Christ who moves before us and leads us.

May he be a beacon for our pilgrimage.

Enlighten us and dwell within us.

Guide us to discover a manger in our hearts where a great light still shines.

We thank you for the gift of that unfading Star, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

Heal our divisions and draw us closer to the Light that we may find our unity in him.

Amen.


Wednesday 19th January – Day 2

Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?”

(Mt 2:2)

Humble leadership breaks down walls and builds up with love

Readings

·        Jeremiah 23:1-6 He shall reign as king and deal wisely.

·        Philippians 2:5-11 Who… did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.

Reflection

True Leadership

Jeremiah denounces the bad leadership of the kings of Israel who divided and scattered the people, a leadership that destroyed nations and drove their citizens into exile. In contrast, the Lord promises a shepherd-king who will ‘execute justice and righteousness in the land’ and gather the flock as one.

Only in Christ have we seen the example of a leader truly after God’s heart. In him we encounter a loving, humble servant who does not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. He comes to serve, rather than be served, and his followers are called to do the same.

Today, the Middle East is experiencing the loss of its people to exile as ‘righteousness and justice’ are becoming scarce commodities, not only there but throughout the world. Yet leaders, both in the world and in the Church, have a responsibility to bring together rather than to scatter or divide. The more faithfully Christians emulate the servant leadership of Christ, the more division in both the world and the Church will be overcome. As we work for righteousness, justice and peace for all, we witness humbly to the shepherd-king, and draw others into his presence.

Prayer

Just and righteous God,

we confess before you that we often covet worldly models of leadership.

Help us to seek our Lord Jesus Christ

not in the palaces of the powerful but in the humble manger.

May we emulate him in his meekness and become servants to each other in obedience to you.

We pray in the name of Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit reigns forever in glory.

Amen.

Thursday 20th January – Day 3

“When king Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him”

(Mt 2:3)

The presence of Christ, turning the world upside down

Readings

·        Psalm 2:1-10 Why do the nations conspire…?

·        2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5 But the Lord is faithful, he will strengthen you

Reflection

Christ’s coming disturbs the ways of the world. He comes in humility, denouncing the evil of injustice and oppression that accompanies the ambition for power, wealth and status. Jesus calls for a change of heart and a transformation of life, which will bring liberation from all that dehumanises. This creates disturbance precisely because he rocks the boat of those who seek only their own interests and neglect the common good. But for those who work for peace and unity, Christ’s coming brings the light of hope.

We are invited to commit ourselves to act constructively to make justice a reality, acknowledging where we have strayed from God’s ways of justice and peace. Then the answer to our prayer for Christian unity becomes visible as others recognise in us Christ’s presence in the world. We can bring the light of hope to those living in the darkness of political unrest, social poverty, and structural discrimination. The Good News is that God is faithful, always strengthening and protecting us, inspiring us to work for the good of others, especially the victims of oppression, hatred, violence and pain.

Prayer

Lord, you led us out of darkness to hope in Jesus.

Unite us in our commitment to establish your reign of love, justice and peace,

bringing light to those living in the darkness of despair and disillusionment.

Shine your light upon us and surround us with the warmth of your love.

Lift us up to you, so that our lives may glorify you,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen


Friday 21st January – Day 4

“And you, Bethlehem… are by no means least”

(Mt 2:6)

Though small and suffering, we lack nothing

Readings

·        Micah 5:2-5a, 7-8 From you shall come forth … one who is to rule in Israel

·        1 Peter 2: 21-25 Now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls

·        Luke 12:32-40 Do not be afraid, little flock

Reflection

Today we consider why God chooses to act in and through seemingly insignificant places and people, and what God does with them. These are not new questions – in fact they are the favourite paradoxes of preachers in the Christmas and Epiphany seasons – yet they continue to challenge us. The prophet Micah speaks directly to Bethlehem and predicts its greatness as the home of the shepherd who will defend God’s people. The First Letter of Peter tells people who have already begun to identify Jesus Christ with the Messiah that he is the shepherd who willingly suffers to save the flock. The Gospel of Luke reassures the ‘little flock’ of Christ’s followers that they need have no fear, because God has promised them the Kingdom.

We receive these messages of consolation, directed to particular people at a particular time, in the context of our own concerns and longing for consolation. They invite us to take part in God’s transformation of inequality, violence and injustice, not to wait passively for these things to happen. They call on us to be politically aware; to be locally ready to make our churches little Bethlehems where Christ can be born in generosity and hospitality; to recognise ourselves as a ‘little flock’, unimportant perhaps in the world’s eyes,  but with a value and a vocation in the great mystery of salvation.

Prayer

Good Shepherd,

the fragmentation of your ‘little flock’ grieves the Holy Spirit.

Forgive our weak efforts and slowness in the pursuit of your will.

Give us wise shepherds after your own heart

who recognise the sin of division,

and those who will lead the churches

with righteousness and holiness, to unity in you.

We ask you, Lord, to hear our prayer. Amen.


Saturday 22nd January – Day 5

“Ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising”

(Mt 2:9)

Guided by the one God

Readings

·        Psalm 121 I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come?

·        Matthew 2:7-10 Ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising

Reflection

Again and again, the scriptures tell us how God walks with us. The path may not always be straight: sometimes we are led to retrace our steps, sometimes to return by a different route. But in all our journeying through life, we can be confident that God, who neither “sleeps nor slumbers”, is with us when we slip or fall.

Even in the greatest darkness, God’s light is with us. Most perfectly, in the fullness of time, God sends Jesus Christ, who is the guiding light for all nations, the glory of God in the world, the source of divine light and life.

The way ahead into unity with one another, into closer union with Christ, is not always clear. In our earnest attempts to build unity ourselves it is all too easy to lose sight of this fundamental message of the scriptures: that God does not abandon his people even in their failures and divisiveness. This is God’s message of hope for the whole world. As the story of the Magi reminds us, God guides people of all kinds, by the light of the star, to where Christ, the light of the world, is to be found.

Prayer

God our Guide,

you sent the star to lead the Magi to your only begotten Son.

Fill us with the confidence that you are walking with us.

Open our eyes to your Spirit, and encourage us in our faith,

so that we may confess that Jesus is Lord,

and worship him as the Magi did in Bethlehem.

Amen. 


Sunday 23rd January – Day 6

“They saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage”

(Mt 2:11)

Gathered in worship around the One Lord

Readings

·        Psalm 84 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!

·        Mt 28:16-20 When they saw him, they worshipped him.

Reflection

When the Magi from their far-away countries arrived at Bethlehem and saw the child with his mother, they worshipped him. In the presence of this revelation of God among us, eyes were cast down and knees bent. Similarly, when the disciples saw the risen Christ on the mountain in Galilee, they were amazed and troubled. Yet they worshipped him.

Do we see? Are we amazed? Are we truly worshipping? How many times do we remain blind to God’s presence? How can we worship in truth if we do not really see first? In our narrow vision, too often we see only our tangled disagreements, forgetting that God’s saving grace is to all, and that we share in the one Spirit who draws us into unity. Often in our pride we follow human laws and traditions, disregarding the love we are called to share as one people justified by Christ’s blood.

As communities enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we are called to walk together towards the Christ-Child, offering homage as one people. The Spirit of compassion guides us to each other and only by following this guide will we be able to “worship in spirit and truth”.

Prayer

Compassionate God,

in your mercy, remove the scales from our eyes

and lead us to repent and to worship you.

In the midst of our sorrow and despite the depth of our sin,

give us the capacity to love you with all our hearts.

As we journey together with one heart and mind,

may we glorify you in the Spirit’s fellowship,

and witness to those around us.

Amen.


Monday 24th January – Day 7

“Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh”

(Mt 2:11)

The search for unity

Readings

·        Hosea 6:1-6 – (v6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice)

·        Matthew 6:19-21 – (v21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also)

Reflection

The prophet Hosea is known for his cry for justice and love to override religious ritual and regulations. We are called to make a treasure of our expression of love and our work for justice and to let that be the offering that we place before the manger. We know that God does not want our riches or burnt offerings, but rather that God’s power works through our poverty: “I have no silver or gold”. The Lord desires our loving hearts, filled with mercy, truly penitent and desiring change.

Let us then prepare the gift of a heart full of love. Kneeling in worship requires hearts that are contrite for the sin that divides us and obedient to the One we serve. This obedience revives, heals and reconciles everything that is broken or wounded in us, around us, and among us as Christians.

Unity is the gift offered to us by Christ. We grow in communion as we share the graces our different traditions have received, acknowledging that the source of all our gifts is the Lord.

Prayer

God,

through your prophets

you have called us to do justice,

to love mercy,

and to walk humbly with you.

In Christ,

you have shown us what that looks like.

Through your Holy Spirit

you continually enable us

to hear your words,

to follow Christ’s example,

and to live as his disciples.

So, as we gather at the manger,

heal our wounds,

reconcile our divisions

and hold us together in your love.

Amen.


Tuesday 25th January – Day 8 Feast of the Conversion of St Paul

“They left for their own country by another road”

(Mt 2:12)

Beyond the familiar routes of separation to God’s new paths

Readings

·        Psalm 16 – You show me the path of life.

·        Matthew 11:25-30 – Because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and have revealed them to infants.

Reflection

We do not know what the wise men thought – they who were experts in astronomy and navigation – when they were warned to return by another road. They may well have been very confused, but the same light that illumined their journey showed them that there was another road, another possibility. They were called to change direction.

We often find ourselves bound by our familiar ways of doing things and of seeing the world. When these ways or ‘roads’ are closed, we wonder how to proceed and continue the journey. We have to trust that the everlasting One who gave us the light, can always find a way forward when our ways and paths are blocked. A fresh start is always possible when we are willing and open to the work of the Spirit.

As churches we look to the past and find illumination, and we look to the future in search of new ways so that we can continue to shine the light of the Gospel as we journey by another way, together.

Prayer

Gracious God,

when we only know one way

and we think we must return to it,

when we think that all roads are blocked,

and we fall into despair,

we always find you there,

creating a new unexpected path before us.

If we search our maps and find no route,

nonetheless we always find you,

who lead us by a yet more excellent way,

trusting that you will always lead us back to you

and forward in unity together. Amen.


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