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Unity: in Society and in the Lord
September is Unity Month in Chicago. Programs sponsored by the
Chicago Commission on Human Relations and the Human Relations
Foundation of Chicago make the cultural and racial diversity among
citizens very clear for all to see and then make the point that
unity among us requires tolerance and even acceptance of this
diversity by everyone. Without tolerance of differences, society
becomes brittle and violent, interest groups become enclaves and
people are trapped in worlds limited to their own prejudices.
A few months ago, the Illinois bishops issued a letter urging
Catholics to move beyond racism by learning to see with the eyes
of Christ. The letter addressed the fact of racism and its meaning,
drew moral conclusions and suggested some concrete actions which
all can take to change our hearts and our society. Re-reading
that pastoral letter might be an exercise appropriate to the celebration
of Unity Month.
The Church enters into the celebration of Unity Month because
she desires to foster respect for human dignity and decrease the
violence that has its roots in prejudice and disdain for others.
But the Church asks us to move beyond civic tolerance, which accepts
others as equals. The Church asks us to reach even beyond neighborliness,
which welcomes others as friends. The Church, in the name of Christ,
tells us to love others and enjoy our cultural and racial and
personal differences as gifts. Unity in society is possible when
differences are recognized as gifts to be shared.
But the Churchs very understanding of who Christ is prevents
her from simply celebrating all religious differences as blessings.
In early September, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
issued a declaration (Dominus Iesus) which restated our belief
that Jesus is Lord, the only Son of God and the savior of the
entire human race, who wills that all people be gathered into
his Body, the Church. In some news reports, the letter was distorted
into stating that only Catholics can be saved, an opinion that
is contrary to Catholic doctrine. But beyond the misinterpretation,
the assertion of universal objective validity for one religion
was resented by many, including some Catholics. Unity in the Lord
is not an ideal for all.
Although the Churchs defense of human rights and her works of
charity are usually appreciated, her teachings are often disliked
and, sometimes, even hated. Yet the social teaching and the charitable
works are rooted in the Churchs seeing with the eyes of Christ.
Seeing Christ himself in the vision of faith, we recognize our
Lord, the head of the Church, which has a mission as universal
as the love of God and the salvific action of Christ.
Asserting foundational Catholic beliefs sometimes elicits angry
reactions, since anti-Catholicism is part of the intellectual
furniture and the cultural heritage of this country. Few seem
disturbed by fundamentalist tracts distributed around the city
that say Catholics are not Christians and are surely going to
hell. No one should be surprised that Jews do not accept Jesus
as the Messiah or as the only begotten Son of God. No one I know
is offended that Muslims do not believe that Jesus died on the
cross and was, at best, a prophet inferior to Mohammed. Peoples
sincerely held beliefs deserve respect, even if others believe
The Catholic Church, however, remains suspect in many eyes, sometimes
because of religious convictions or for political reasons, more
often these days because of personal claims. The Church contests
claims to sexual freedoms that run counter to our understanding
of what it means to receive and transmit human life or that are
destructive of the family. Since acceptance of homosexual genital
relationships is now a sign of tolerance, opposition to Catholicism
is proof of ones own moral superiority. Since acceptance of abortion
is now the test for ones support of womens freedom, the Churchs
insistence that freedom cannot be purchased with the blood of
children makes her an object of hatred in many quarters. The justification
for the opposition to Catholic teaching shifts somewhat from generation
to generation, but the opposition is always there. Its no longer
acceptable in many quarters to call the Pope the anti-Christ;
but the Vatican remains a favorite bogeyman, capable of scaring
even journalists. For many, Catholicisms very existence is a
threat, either to themselves or to civic harmony and social unity.
With all this, the Church tries to remain faithful to her Lord.
Efforts to create a just and harmonious civil society will continue,
not just in September but throughout the year. Ecumenical and
inter-religious dialogue will go on. We should hope that it will
go on with a firmer foundation and a stronger desire to seek understanding
with believers of other religious traditions so that all of us
may come to the knowledge of the truth. Jesus himself prayed that
all would be one in Him and therefore one with the Father through
the working of the Holy Spirit. That is our prayer as well; but
how or when it will be answered is something we trust God, who
loves everyone and who gives us the grace to do the same, to bring
about. God bless you.
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