Sunday, 19 May 2013

Diversity in/and Unity: Thursday May 16th

I've been a little delayed since returning from Chicago, partly by my own desire to rest, partly by an effort to restore my laptop to full form which is an on going effort.  I've been working on this blog for a longer period of time, because the theme is quite challenging. So these are the readings, and Jesuit saints of this past Thursday.

St Andrew Bobola 
(funny name I know! Even Jesuits have been having fun with it all day in our house of studies!)

As fun as his name may be, his story is not so fun. He's a Polish martyr for the faith who was tortured and killed by Cossacks, who are known to be rather savage  and  brutal in their behavior towards their 'enemies'. 

Like so many Catholic Saints, Andrew was born  in a noble family. Born in 1591 in Poland, we get little details about his whole life, but we do know that he entered the Jesuits in 1611. He was described most of his life as someone who worked hard to bring schismatics back to the faith. He is also -either correctly or incorrectly- considered to have labored for a stronger unity between Orthodox and Catholics ( The tradition in the Church suggests he would have been. I have no sources that suggest the contrary, so we can go with that for now!) .Whatever his true motives, he was eventually captured by the Cossacks in 1657, and was tortured for hours (I'll spare my readers the gory details, but some of those can be found on Wikipedia), before he was stabbed in the heart with an ice pick. 

 I approach any talk of St Andrew Bobola striving for Unity between Catholics and Orthodox with a little suspicion, because this 'ecumenical' spirit is not usually associated with the mainstream Catholic Church until the 19th and 20th century. That being said, if St Andrew saw that the division between Catholics and Orthodox was the cause of so much bloodshed, then he may have been inspired to find a peaceful unity between the two communities of faith (this is all conjecturing, so don't quote me on that one! I believe certain Orthodox Christians have a very different view of St Andrew, much more negative.) Whatever his motives, when facing his tormentors and killers, he lived out that unity by not condemning them, but by kneeling down and asking God to forgive them of the sin they were about to commit by torturing and murdering him. In this act, he embodied Christ in ways that many of us still can not. He believed so strongly that he was united to these men in Christ, that he would not resist, or condemn them, but love them, despite their hate for him. He understood that although we live in a diverse world, the call to unity in our love of Christ remains central to our faith.
      This theme of unity within a diverse world is an important one for us as well.When we look at our world, we see all nations, all religions, all creeds, "coexisting", side by side, we understand that diversity is  what best defines our world.Our Western world especially thrives on that diversity, where we embrace as many cultures as we can and try to respect as many beliefs as is possible. The question becomes, how do WE find unity in diversity?  It's a challenge. Many will point to the movie/book 'life of Pie' as an example of someone who can find unity in all faiths and who tries to live that unity for himself, but such a fictional account seems a bit far fetched, even for our open minded world. 

  The problem we seem to face is that, eventually, wherever one lives, one set of beliefs might be considered more ' valid ' than others. When this happens, people who hold different opinions and beliefs than those more 'popular' ones could be mocked, and even persecuted for their beliefs and will either be drowned out by the loud majority, or will  be expected to simply disappear from the public sphere.( No specific examples are necessary. We know such intolerance does exist in one form or another  everywhere in the world, without exception. From the most radical of societies, to the most progressive ones, we can find examples of rejection of an 'unpopular opinion' or choice in the media, or in the mindset of the general public.) Because of this tension between opinions and beliefs, there isn't much of a dialog anymore between people on opposing sides in our world. It's more of a shouting match (maybe it's always been this way!). We see it with conservatives and liberals in every aspect of our own Western Society, even in our own faith communities. In short, it seems that our diversity almost becomes an obstacle to unity.

 We should not think this is a 20th/21st century phenomenon. We encounter it in today's first reading. Paul, while making great progress in his mission to pass on the story of Jesus to a new generation of people, still wrestled enormously with his own Jewish world.  The passage begins rather abruptly, skipping the intro that explains how Paul was arrested by the governor before he made more damage by causing riots, and that this same governor wanted Paul to stand trial before the Jewish community. We see that the Jewish world was at least divided  into  2 camps (probably more!), the Pharisees, and Sadduces . We sometimes get the impression from the Gospels that these were very similar groups, but in fact, they did not get along very well, as they believed in very different things. Their main point of contention was belief in the resurrection of the Body.  The Pharisees -many scholars have suggested that Jesus belonged to this group, and that he was formed and inspired by them- believed in the resurrection of the body after death.Their opponents did not. Paul uses this to his advantage rather cleverly, and was probably feeling pretty good about himself because of that, not only being able to reach out to the Pharisees a little more, but also being able to get out of his trial by causing mayhem!
   God uses that particular moment to remind him that there was still work to be done. He sends him on this very special mission that will change the face of History: "you must now also bear witness in Rome."  As we all know, Rome is both where the Faith would be increasingly persecuted, and would eventually find it's greatest expression and support. A very difficult challenge lies in Rome for Paul, one that would shape the history of the Catholic Church and of all of Christianity.

  What would have given Paul the energy to travel to Rome, the heart of the mighty empire, to face new persecutions and inevitable death, was not this idea that he alone could be right in his belief, but that he was united to all people through Jesus. If the people resisted this notion by attacking him, this was of little consequence to him. He believed in Christ, and in the union that Jesus invites us to in the Gospel. That union is very particular: It isn't rooted in pragmatism or prosperity as it was in the Roman empire -with the Pax Romana-  nor is it rooted in respect and tolerance of varying points of views as it is in the West today, but on a deep love. The Father so loved the world, he sent his son to be among us. The son so loved the world, he consented to die in order to take on our sins and be in a deeper union with us. Everything Jesus did, every miracle, every teaching,  points to that desire of a union, that all people maybe one as Jesus and the Father are one. 

 This is not an invitation to reject the diversity of our world, but an invitation to let love unite us to the world. God loves us, no matter what we bring to the table. Jesus loved all people, in their sinfulness, and in their holiness. We are also invited to love unconditionally. Now, it is for us to return that love to all who need it most, all who are to afraid to ask for it, and all who simply give it without asking in our lives. When that love triumphs, we will have union within our diversity. Until it does, our diversity will only build up more walls between people in our world.


Acts 22: 30;  23: 6 - 11

30But on the morrow, desiring to know the real reason why the Jews accused him, he unbound him, and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.
6But when Paul perceived that one part were Sad'ducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead I am on trial."
7And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sad'ducees; and the assembly was divided.
8For the Sad'ducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.
9Then a great clamor arose; and some of the scribes of the Pharisees' party stood up and contended, "We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?"
10And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them and bring him into the barracks.
11The following night the Lord stood by him and said, "Take courage, for as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome."
Psalms 16: 1 - 2, 5, 7 - 11

1Preserve me, O God, for in thee I take refuge.
2I say to the LORD, "Thou art my Lord; I have no good apart from thee."
5The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; thou holdest my lot.
7I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
8I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure.
10For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit.
11Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fulness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.
John 17: 20 - 26

20"I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word,
21that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
22The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,
23I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.
24Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world.
25O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me.
26I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them."

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