The Gift of Diversity

07-07-2019From the Pastor's DeskMsgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

Diversity is one of the gifts we have as human beings to expand our understanding of who we are and how we can live together. The key is to be open to those who see things or understand things differently than we do. Diversity turns into divisiveness when we see other points of view as wrong. Obviously some things are wrong, sinful, and evil, but the challenge comes when two good but different points of view are both valid and good. One of the most prominent and powerful experiences and examples of positive diversity is the union of husband and wife in the Sacrament of Marriage. God in His wisdom created us in His image and both men and women reveal different aspects of God. But most of all they help us to marvel at the unbelievable power of God’s love. Our God is not only the God of creation but the God who invites us into the very intimacy of His life. We are all baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He wants us to be fully a part of who He is and wants us to know He wants to be a part of who we are.

The relationship of marriage as well as any interpersonal relationship that is life giving takes time, energy, and commitment in love. There is no doubt about God’s love for us. But to be energized, inspired, and sustained by His love we need to take time and energy to be with Him. The Third Commandment was given to the Jewish people and passed on to us not to keep us in line, but to open our minds and hearts to His life-giving presence. As individuals we pray personally and as a community of believers when we come together every Sunday to be renewed, refreshed, and resolved in God’s love for us. There are distractions that range from wandering, distracting, and negative thoughts to the temptation to look at who is texting us on our cell phones. We can fixate on some injustice in our personal lives or in our society. We can dilute the power of our faith by giving in to the thought that nothing can be done or at least there is nothing I can do because “that is the way things are.” We human beings are responsible for the way things are. That is why God gave us free will. We can choose to love and we do countless wonderful things every day as individuals and as the Church. The other side of that is choosing to sin. And we can sin because we willfully choose to be selfish, spiteful, or not involved. In a book about Confession I am reading entitled “Confession” by Adrienne von Speyr, the foreword expands our understanding of who we are and who we can become by using these two contrasting images: the communion of saints and the communion of sinners. None of us would consider ourselves saints. All too easily stupid, dumb, mean, and hurtful things we have done or said come to mind. But the communion of sinners is not the crowd that is hell bound, but a communion of forgiven sinners. As the forward in von Speyr’s book says, Jesus makes it crystal clear that our God is a God who loves to forgive, who loves to show mercy.

When we look at the diversity that we have in the Church today it would do us well to look back at the Founding Apostles, the people hand picked by Jesus Himself. Peter denied Him, Thomas doubted Him, and Judas betrayed Him. In the Acts of the Apostles, the first book in the Bible after the four Gospels, we see diversity and differences at work as the Apostles take on the charge given them to go out and proclaim the Good News to all nations and form the Church. Each difference was resolved by first praying and then being open to what they believed Jesus called them to do. In today’s Gospel we see how far they progressed after Jesus rose and ascended. In this passage (Luke 9:51-62), Jesus is passing through a Samaritan village and is on His way to Jerusalem. Because of His destination, the Samaritans refuse to welcome Him. Taking umbrage at such an attitude, James and John ask and maybe even want to prompt Jesus to their point of view: “When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.” Jesus came to bring us into God’s life with love. As I wrote in the above paragraph, Jesus makes it crystal clear that our God is a God who loves to forgive, who loves to show mercy. We do not resolve differences through threats or imposing our point of view, but by living and speaking the truth with the love of Jesus. That is not easy. But we know that marriages and interpersonal relationships survive and prosper because of mutual love and respect. It is when we draw the line and condemn, criticize, and belittle that diversity turns into division. We cannot resolve all differences and realistically we know sin is causing chaos and division among us. We cannot be like the Apostles in today’s Gospel as they seek to call down fire and brimstone on enemies and evildoers. At daily Mass we are getting to the end of the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel readings. One of the most powerful challenges we face is to live out this passage: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) We are not called to be ideal, naive fools and pushovers. Jesus certainly was the antithesis of those images. The closer we come to Him, the more hopeful, powerful, and life giving our love and presence.

Forgiven and infused with His mercy we become a communion of forgiven sinners on our way to the fullness of God’s Kingdom and seeking to bring all those who are open with us.