After a recent presentation a young man walked up to me and simple said: “It does not matter whether a priest is conservative or liberal, during the consecration he is just a priest.” He quickly modified his statement and said “well, not ‘just’ a priest, of course, but you know what I mean.” Then he simply walked away. The statement surprised me since I neither had spoken about the Eucharist nor about priests, be they conservative or liberal or anywhere in between. And yet, I did know what he meant: what binds us together is stronger than that which sets us apart. When Christ comes in our midst there is neither male nor female; neither young nor old; neither gay nor straight; neither rich nor poor; neither over-educated nor under-educated. We are all children of God and part of the Body of Christ.
This strong belief we have as Catholics stands in stark contrast with our day to day experience. When I read certain catholic blogs and the reactions to the blogs I often have to stop reading because I am embarrassed by the anger we at times have toward one another. And I wonder what non-Catholics think when they read about us.
The same holds for all Christians. It is surprising, to say the least how we think about one another and what we say about one another. And I wonder what non-Christians think about us.
And by extension, the same holds for all descendant of Abraham, Jews, Christians and Muslims who all believe in the one true God; and yet we kill one another in the name of that same God. And I wonder what non-Abrahamic descendants think about us.
And in the broadest sense, the same holds for all humans who are all created in the image of God and yet are so divided. And I wonder what God might be thinking about us.
Division is what seems to be the characteristic of our existence. We identify with those who are like us in their appearance, in their faith, in their political adherence, in their familial situation. And we distance ourselves from those who look differently, believe differently, vote differently, live differently. And there are many, many more people in the “different” camp than there are in the “same” camp. Worse, it looks like the “same” camp gets smaller and smaller as we find more and more difference that distance us from one another.
If ever we hope to rid our world of hatred, violence and war we will need to free ourselves of the lethal philosophy of separation and embrace the life-giving theology of encounter. We will have to tear down walls that divide us and build bridges that connect us. We will have to overcome our fears and ignorance and invest in courage and knowledge. This does not mean we have to lose our own identity and become like one another. Nor does it mean that we have to give up those beliefs we hold dear. Rather it means we have to welcome and accept one another embracing our differences as additions to the great and interesting tapestry that makes up our human family.
May every celebration of the Eucharist be an invitation to commit ourselves to celebrate what unites us, rather than what divides us. After all, what binds us together as Catholics, as Christians, as sons and daughters of Abraham and as adopted daughters and sons of God is stronger than that which sets us apart. Granted, love does take effort, yet so does hatred.