Third Sunday after Epiphany: Walking In Unity, Living In Harmony

Third Sunday after Epiphany: Walking In Unity, Living In Harmony

This week we are celebrating the Chair of Unity Octave. The Octave began on January 18, Feast of St. Peter’s Chair in Rome, and ends on January 25, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. But, do we know how this important celebration came about? Most, even old timers, would have to say “No!”

The story of the holy man who began this octave — as an Anglican, no less — and single handedly encouraged priests, bishops, and finally, the reigning pope to approve, adopt, and spread it throughout the universal church is a fascinating one.

That man was Lewis Thomas Wattson, born the third son to an impoverished Episcopalian minister named Rev. Joseph Newton Wattson and his wife, Mary Electa. Lewis Thomas Wattson was raised Episcopalian and became an Episcopal priest himself in 1886. Co-founded the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement and the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement at the Graymoor chapel in Garrison, New York in 1898 with a mission of promoting Christian unity; he took the name Father Paul.

Amazingly, before he entered the Catholic Church, Father Paul of Graymoor promoted a worldwide devotion through The Lamp to the unity of all Christian Churches under the See of Rome. This he named “The Church Unity Octave.” Spreading the ideas written in the book England and the Holy See by Reverend Spencer Jones, he stated that the Catholic Church alone was the living expression of the full Christian tradition. Unfortunately, individual conversions were discouraged in favor of Corporate Reunion. Reverend Jones suggested to Father Paul that one day a year be set aside for special prayer for Christian Unity and public sermons on the Pope. To Father Paul, one day did not seem enough; so he proposed a full octave — from the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair at Rome, January 18, to the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, January 25. He drew up official prayers for the Octave and promoted it in the pages of The Lamp. The first observance of the Octave would be January, 1908.

It is to his credit that Father Paul, while still an Anglican, garnered the support of both Anglican clergymen and Catholic priests and prelates. Even the Archbishop of Boston, William Cardinal O’Connell gave it his whole-hearted approval. Not surprisingly, shortly after the celebration of the first Church Unity Octave, Father Paul began negotiations with Catholic authorities, which led to the full submission of the Society of the Atonement to the Catholic Church in October, 1909.

In 1910, Father Paul was ordained a Catholic priest. Founded Saint Christopher’s Inn for homeless men. Published the monthly magazine The Lamp which was devoted to missions and Christian unity. Produced The Ave Maria Hour radio program which broadcast stories of the life Christ and lives of the saints.

In the words of one Monsignor: “It took an enormous amount of courage for Father Paul to step forward and to have created this beautiful gift to the Church, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. He never stopped praying that prayer for unity and that’s what I find so incredibly inspiring about this man.”

In todays Epistle reading from Romans 12:16 we read,

“Being of one mind one towards another. Not minding high things, but consenting to the humble. Be not wise in your own conceits.”

And then in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 we read:

"Two can accomplish more than twice as much as one, for the results can be much better. If one falls, the other pulls him up; but if a man falls when he is alone, he's in trouble.....And one standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer; three is even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken".

You may remember the story from Aesop's fables, where an old farmer taught an object lesson on unity to his three children, who were constantly quarreling among themselves. Taking a number of weak sticks, he showed them how the sticks could quite easily be broken individually, but when tied together, in a bundle, were almost impossible to break.

Even the children of this world realize that there is strength in unity and fellowship. "The locusts", the Bible says, "though small are unusually wise, for though they have no leader, they stay together in swarms" (Proverbs 30:27). Therein lies their safety and their power.

In the Church of Jesus Christ, we need to relearn this lesson.

I am not referring to an organizational unity of Christians or of churches and denominations, formed by man, at the cost of compromise and the sacrifice of God's truth - such as in the modern day ecumenical movement. That type of unity is a farce and a counterfeit of the unity that Christ prayed for in His High-Priestly prayer (recorded in John 17).

The unity that the New Testament speaks of, is the unity of the members of Christ's Body with one another, under the Headship of Christ and His Vicar -an organic unity. It excludes those who are outside of the Body of Christ, even if they have the label 'Christian'. There can be no union between the living and the dead. Those made alive in Christ through the new birth can find their spiritual unity only with others who have been similarly regenerated by God. Christian unity is forged by the Holy Spirit Who alone makes us members of Christ's Body when we enter into the sacramental waters of baptism. In Baptism, the “one Spirit” makes us members of the Body of Christ and of “one another”.

The result of Baptism has been described as a “mystical unity” between Christ and his disciples, and the disciples with one another, like “branches of a single vine.”

The Bible exhorts us to "strive earnestly to guard the harmony and oneness produced by the Spirit" (Ephesians 4:3). Any unity formed by man is worthless.

Satan is a cunning foe and he realizes that he cannot overcome a united Christian fellowship that lives under the authority of Christ and His Word. His strategy for warfare, is therefore, to begin by sowing discord, suspicion and misunderstanding among the members of this fellowship, so that he can paralyze them individually.

Jesus said that the powers of Hell would not be able to overcome His Church. (Matthew 16:18). It is the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, that is promised victory in the battle against Satan. A believer standing in isolation from other believers may find himself defeated.

Satan attacked Christ constantly during Christ's life on earth, but was unable to prevail. Finally at the cross, Satan's power over man was taken away from him by Christ (Hebrews 2:14; Colossians 2:15).

Today, Satan cannot attack the Risen Christ. His attacks are therefore directed at Christ's Body, the Church. Victory over Satan is possible only as we stand united against him, as a Body under the Headship of our Lord and His true Vicar, His representative here on earth.

In a fellowship of Christians, even if one member is not fulfilling his function, the power of the Body is, to that extent, weakened.

Satan knowing this, seeks continually to isolate individual members of the Church, or to divide them into cliques. Either way, he succeeds in his aim.

This is why we must be constantly on our guard against the wiles of Satan, lest he weaken the links between us and other members of the Body of Christ.