What do you consider is of prime importance in being a Christian believer?

St. Paul's major concern for the Corinthian Church was that his sisters and brothers be in agreement, that there "be no divisions among" them, that the community "be united in the same mind and in the same purpose" (I Cor 1:10). Yet the Christian Church seems to have always contended with arguments and misunderstandings, which have often resulted in divisions.

What is there about Christians that unity of mind and purpose is so elusive? How many of us, having only experienced a divided church, have become accustomed to the divisions and are not shocked or discouraged? Paul could not tolerate the divisions within the Corinthian Church. Division is contrary and detrimental to the body of Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel.

John records that one of the last prayers Jesus offered before His arrest was for us: "that they all may 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 17:21). Unity, being of one mind and purpose, not only reflects the intimate relationship between the Father and Son, but allows us to be taken up into that divine relationship "that they also may be in us."

Unity has responsibilities and consequences for the world. The unity Jesus prays for among His future followers will lead the world to believe in Him; conversely, our divisions drive people away from a relationship with Jesus.

How we live our lives as individual Christians and as Christian communities make the difference, for many people, between belief and unbelief. We need not wonder why many people are abandoning religion, even coming to see it as an evil to be eradicated. Can you blame them, when they see how we Christians act?

Consider the public expressions of hate by Catholics when parishes and schools need to merge or close. Consider the disagreements over the authority and interpretation of Scripture that have driven churches apart: Scripture is experienced as a wall rather than a bridge, a battering ram rather than the Good News.

Consider the lack of hospitality many people have experienced from "regulars" when entering our churches: not being noticed or greeted, having to crawl over someone who refuses to move in from "their" place in a pew, hearing thoughtless words of judgment, particularly at Christmas and Easter.

Consider that, because of our divisions, which Christ is a person to believe in: the Christ of Evangelical Christians, Anglican Christians, Orthodox Christians, Presbyterian Christians, Catholic Christians, Reformed Christians? Paul's question rings true for so many people seeking to approach Christianity: "Is Christ divided?" (I Cor 1:13).

Consider the effect when differences of taste, orientation or emphasis become so important that they overshadow our life together in Christ. People among us will fight to the death over moving a statue in a church, while others don't care whether there are any statues at all. The danger of lesser things being given primacy over Christ is very real.

Consider this: Is there a difference between the violence rooted in religious extremism and the violence of many Christians (Catho-lics) who have reduced themselves and others to labels; who judge, slander and dismiss each other as wrong, irreverent, disobedient and unfaithful not to Christ, but to the pope? No wonder the Orthodox and Reformed Churches are wary of Catholics, when the pope and catechism are referred to more often than Christ.

Is Christ divided? Who was crucified for you: Mother Angelica? Francis? John Paul? Our divisions are emptying the Gospel and the cross of Christ of their dynamic power to change people's lives and draw them to Jesus.

Though the examples of Christ-like mercy and compassion exhibited by Pope Francis resonate with so many people around the world, how scandalous is the criticism by some Catholics who deem the pope not "Catholic" enough, not concerned enough about teachings and rules?

How can we keep missing the presence of Christ and the unity He prayed for? Unity is a responsibility. A divided Christianity is "a people walking in darkness and living in a land overshadowed by death" (Is 9:1) who have not yet "seen a great light." How do we move from darkness toward the oneness of mind and purpose prayed for by Jesus and confirmed by Paul?

Google "Catholic Church and ecumenism." Discover what the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s and subsequent popes teach about responsibility toward working for unity among Christians. What do you know or what are your misconceptions about Anglican, Evangelical, Baptist, Orthodox and other Christians? Google "Christian denominations" and learn about them. Experience the worship of other Christians. Introduce yourself to the clergy and express why you are present that day.

In your parish, pray for those you have judged and strongly disagree with - but not for them to change to your self-evident and self-affirming positions and interpretations. Be open to the Holy Spirit to give you the ability to listen, discern and reconsider where truth is to be found.

Then we will be a people who, though walking in the darkness of our divisions and self-righteousness, will see a great light leading us, and experience a light shining upon us for others to see that Jesus is the Christ, the true light of the world.

(Father Mickiewicz is chair of the Roman Catholic/Orthodox Dialogue Committee and pastor of St. Mary's parish in Oneonta.)