Yesterday, I stepped foot into the Bahá’í House of Worship for North America on the outskirts of Chicago with my good friend from high school, who happens to be Jewish. The Baha’i faith is one that is inclusive of all religions – actually, the Bahá’ís believe “the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.” After my experiences with religious unity with GreenFaith, it felt so good to be able to return to this feeling of oneness, this feeling that I did not need to feel separated from my brothers and sisters of other religions and other denominations, despite the world’s great attempts to keep us all divided. Growing up in the public school system, I have always had friends of other religions and denominations, and the divide between us because of my connection to the Catholic Church has always saddened me. So, it felt good yesterday to be able to share in worship with someone who, other than babysitting kids at her temple during Jewish holiday services as a teenager, I had not previously shared a religious experience with.
As a teenager, I was very active in a Franciscan ministry program for youth called Capuchin Youth & Family Ministries. The Franciscan charism then left me thirsting for more than I was able to get from the Catholic church on my college campus, and I began exploring the non-denominational, ecumenical, and Protestant angles of Christianity, where I felt a unity and inclusiveness that reminded me of the Franciscan charism I had previously experienced. Since then I have felt I bridged a divide between the Catholic Church and non-Catholic Christians. I also had a spiritual awakening during this time that “we are all one.”
“Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are” is a line from a verse in John 17. This verse, as it happens, has also inspired others within the Christian tradition to come together in unity across denominations. The John 17 Movement seeks to bridge the divide between Catholics and Protestants, and even includes a moving message from Pope Francis about unity:
Pope Francis message to John 17 Movement on May 23rd, 2015 in Phoenix, AZ from John 17 Movement on Vimeo.
I am deeply inspired by this movement for unity, and as a board member of the Franciscan Action Network, which represents all branches of the family of followers of St. Francis of Assisi – Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Ecumenical – I am committed to learning what more we can do to bring unity to Christians everywhere. We share a common heritage, one of following the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Now in this moment in history, when the world has been turned upside down by Pope Francis, may we ask ourselves, “What Would Jesus Do?”.
May we return to the prayer of Jesus in John 17, and learn to seek unity between the gaps that divide us.