Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Faithful Diversity

Dear Friends,

Our church  is a big church. I know you’ve heard that before. Big, in the sense of being worldwide, but big, also, in the sense of embracing people with great love of God, or a tiny struggling love of God. Big, because the points of view of our members is diverse, and we have a wealth of insight, experience, attitudes and practices.

Beyond our mutual acceptance of the Creed, beyond our immersion in Word and Sacrament, diversity has always been part of our church – from Peter and Paul to Benedict and Francis, from the faithful of South Sudan to the Catholics of Seattle.

One such group of stand-outs was the Corinthians, with whom Paul interacted with vigor. The people of Corinth were religiously diverse, but as Paul reminded them when they embraced the Lord, they were “consecrated in Christ and called to be a holy people.”

Diversity marks us, yet we are one holy people.
Recently I came across a book title and I thought Yes! This applies to us as a church. The phrase is faithful diversity. We are a church of (I hope) faithfully diverse people.

Some of us say: prayer is all. Others claim: No, prayer happens when we are in the service of others. Some of us put great energy into pro-life issues. Others say: We do need to do that, but shouldn’t we also work at eliminating poverty and other evils in the world. Some want everyone to follow the letter of the law. Others hold that the spirit of the law is more important.

I was challenged one day after saying, as part of a talk, that not all ideas that are held by believers are of equal weight. The voice from the audience passed the judgment: “You’re a cafeteria Catholic!” No. There’s a breadth to the scope of Catholicism. It is important that we respect the spectrum – respect faithful diversity.

Jesus did not melt his disciples down into one mold. If anything, he called his followers to a fruitful diversity. They were to bear fruit in God’s name, put their lamps on a lampstand, be salt, leaven and encouragement for others to follow the Spirit.

Diversity we will always have with us.
Divisiveness happens when we believe that my way is God’s way, and that we do not allow others the freedom to follow the Epiphany star by a different route.

This is the work of ordinary time, indeed, the work of every season of the liturgical year, to develop ways of being and doing that allow and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to grow as individual believers, and for our whole church to grow strong.

Saint Augustine dealt with analogous issues in the 4th and 5th centuries. His words are a rich formula to shape our own attitudes toward others who belong to our church but who differ from us:

In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, freedom, and
in all things, charity.

~Joan Sobala, SSJ