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Editorial: The problem of unity without truth 

“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn 17:20-21).

In the modern world, we speak of unity as something to be desired in itself. We talk about “speaking with one voice,” being “united in opposing injustice,” “unified in our desire to create a better world.” We cast unity as a sign of strength, the proof of the righteousness of our cause, whatever it may be.

What we rarely do is tie unity to truth, to recognize that any unity that doesn’t flow from a shared recognition of, and adherence to, the truth is not merely false but worse than a lack of unity.

For Christians, unity is not merely something to be desired; it is a divine command. At the Last Supper, Christ prayed that we may all be one, as he and the Father are one. The unity of the Son and the Father is not superficial. It goes to the essence of who they are as the first and second Persons of the Trinity. The Son and the Father cannot fail to be united, because they are truth itself. And they call each and every one of us to enter into the fullness of that truth.

“Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth” (Jn 17:17-19).

In a few weeks, the bishops of the United States will hold their spring 2021 general assembly. In these (we pray) final days of the pandemic, they will meet virtually, as they did in November of last year. Among the items on the agenda is the question of Eucharistic coherence, the opportunity to speak with one voice about the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church, and all that flows from that reality.

In his High Priestly Prayer at the Last Supper, just moments after instituting the priesthood and the Eucharist, Jesus prayed that his disciples would be united in truth: not in adherence to abstract moral principles, but in the encounter with him, and through him with the Father. He prayed that the Father would send the Spirit, the Advocate of truth, to be with the disciples, the very first bishops, and in describing the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he revealed the mystery of the Trinity.

Yet this year, between Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday, the successors of those disciples here in the United States spoke, not with one voice, united in timeless truth, but with many voices more concerned with passing political divisions. In competing statements leaked to the press and released on websites and social media, they did not proclaim the substance of the truth but debated whether they should even speak with one voice. The unity among the successors of the apostles that should naturally flow from the personal encounter of each of them with Jesus Christ crumbled in the face of political considerations that turned Christ’s prayer for unity on its head.

The bishops need to speak with one voice not because of political considerations but in spite of them. If we act as if the truth that we have come to know through our encounter with Christ is less important than the preservation of a political unity that relegates that truth to a mere matter of personal belief, why would anyone else believe that it is necessary for him or her to know the truth? If we who have encountered Christ still act as if we are bound by the things of this world, why would those whom we have been called to evangelize believe that the truth will set them free?

Disunity on the fundamental truths of the Faith among the successors of the apostles isn’t merely disappointing or disheartening. To those who have not yet encountered Christ, such disunity is likely to be seen as evidence that the Good News proclaimed by the Church is false, and that Christ is not who he claims to be.

“And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me” (Jn 17:22-23).

As they prepare to meet, we pray that the bishops of the United States will set aside political considerations and speak with one voice, so that, as Christ prayed, “the world may know that you sent me.”

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young

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