The Word in Peace, Divine Mercy Sunday: It is in community that we see to believe

Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)

As I mentioned in a recent post on the CTA 20/30 blog, Good Pope John XXIII is a special saint to me. As I was a lapsed Catholic adrift in a spiritual Nowhere Land, the Italian pope with a big belly and an even bigger heart taught me the much of the good that is to be found in our faith tradition. So it was something of a no-brainer for me to decide to visit the newly rededicated St. John XXIII (until today Blessed Pope John XXIII) parish in South Fort Myers to join the celebratory mass.

Both this parish and its patron saint embody that crucial component of Christian conduct: a sense of community. St. John welcomed the world with open arms, reaching out to Jews, Orthodox Christians, Protestants, even those “godless” communists. He was not posturing; the pope’s actions showed that he really saw the people of the world as his brothers and sisters.

St. John XXIII parish does much to live up to this commission. There is a dynamic pastor, numerous ministries and, most importantly, an enthusiastic congregation.

It is in fellowship with others that we as Christians have the chance to live out our faith. The First Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, tells us that the Church first establishes itself and performs its “many wonders and signs” (2:43) through communal living, sharing possessions, caring for the sick and needy of the community, and joining each other at the table (vv. 44-46).

Thomas the apostle provides us with an example of belief emerging from community in the Gospel reading. When he was away from the other disciples, Thomas is, as most of us would be, skeptical when he learned of the resurrection (John 20:25). But notice that Jesus does not go out to find Thomas to validate himself. He waits until Thomas returns, giving the apostle the opportunity to see and believe among other believes. It is at that moment that he makes that great confession of Christ’s divinity, “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28)

As the Second Reading tells us, we believe even though we have not seen Jesus (1 Peter 1:8). But that does not happen on its own. We must see the image of God in every person that we encounter if we are to truly live in union with God. And we can’t do that by staying home every day. Even hermits communicate the Good News with others from time to time.

Language gap

Jamie Manson’s latest NCR commentary is entitled: “Dolan and Cordileone: Please don’t call it love.” She wonders what exactly it might mean for Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York, and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, to proclaim that the Catholic Church really does love gays and lesbians.

Dolan said “I love you, too” (literally) in an Easter Sunday interview on ABC. He elaborated: “we want your happiness…you’re entitled to friendship.’” And when Cordileone arrived in San Francisco in 2012, he announced: “We need to continue to learn how to be welcoming, let them know that we love them and we want to help them.”

But Dolan is, of course, a vocal opponent of marriage equality. He also declined a request to meet with homeless LGBTQ youth last year. Cordileone, meanwhile, is nicknamed the “Father of Proposition 8.”

And Jamie notes that when the Human Rights Campaign recently distributed a red and white equal-sign graphic on Facebook, meant to be posted while the Supreme Court heard arguments on marriage equality, Cordileone’s PR staff went ahead with their own jaw-dropping riposte: “a graphic of a white division sign and the citation ‘Luke 12:51’ on a red square. (Luke 12:51 is the verse in which Jesus says, ‘Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division.’)” The archdiocese pulled it from Facebook when people complained, but the division sign had made its point.

Jamie wants church officials to stop using the word “love” unless they demonstrate it in concrete, relational ways:

When we love another person, we genuinely desire to know her or him. When we love, we long to listen to the beloved and to learn his or her story….But that quality of listening requires true presence and vulnerability. For now, men like Dolan and Cordileone continue to insist that gays and lesbians do not know the truth about themselves and their relationships.

Unsurprisingly, commenters began shooting back. One critic, who goes by the screen name Purgatrix Ineptiae (my rough translation: “she who cleans out the folly”), wrote that love means something else entirely:

When a bishop says he loves you, he means he wants to help you get into heaven. It doesn’t mean he will clear his schedule to listen (for the thousandth time) to your protestations that he should adopt your opinions. It doesn’t mean he enjoys your company. It doesn’t mean he wants you to like him. It means he wants to help you eschew sin and grow in faith in accordance with his understanding of sin and faith.

Reading Jamie’s understanding of love, which I confess to sharing, and reading the alternate view provided by Purgatrix, I realized (for the thousandth time) what one of the biggest problems is in the church today. It is the language gap.

For all intents and purposes, there are multiple Catholicisms. Words and symbols might coincide, but meanings do not. I began to grasp this near the end of my college career, while researching a paper on sexual ethics for a theology class. I read articles about John Paul II’s understanding of love.

The articles suggested that love for John Paul was, at bottom, the choice to disinterestedly pursue the objective good of another person, particularly the other’s eternal good. Because God is the creator and ground of all that is, we learn how to make such a choice by first studying God’s self-revelation, of which the church is the privileged custodian. Only secondarily do we study human experience.

This view appeals to our idealism, and has some beauty and logic. It is also somewhat removed from the friction of our everyday, embodied lives. It frequently does not allow our personal encounters to speak for themselves with all their compelling mystery and poetry, their unbidden ecstasy and sorrow. And so when we try to dialogue with the Vatican about love, particularly sexual love, the result is generally an impasse.

Speaking of dialogue, I had a related light-bulb moment while reading David Gibson’s book about Pope Benedict XVI, The Rule of Benedict. One passage argued that while Benedict considered himself wholeheartedly committed to dialogue, he often used the word in a different way than it appears in common discourse. Benedict’s model for “dialogue” was the Gospel of John, in which the truth-seeker asks questions of the truth-bearer, as Nicodemus does with Jesus, and then accepts what the truth-bearer reveals. This is dialogos with the divine logos, not a hashing-out among parties of equal standing. For me, it explained a lot.

If this is how much our basic terms and concepts differ, then consider just how much we talk past each other, and how much we will continue to do so. I obviously have no easy solution. I doubt there is even a hard solution.

But if I am not immediately optimistic, I yet have hope. My hope is in Jesus’ observation that the proof of the tree is its fruit. My hope is in Gamaliel’s counsel that what comes from God is not stoppable. We will see which language, which worldview, gives the most abundant life to the most people. And you know where my bias is.

The “JP2 Generation”

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the passing from this world of the late Servant of God: Pope John Paul II. Acclaimed by some already as “the Great” Pope John Paul II was undoubtedly one of the most charismatic and influential Pontiffs of the Church during the Twentieth Century. One of his most endearing qualities was his ability to relate to, inspire, and identify with young people.

World Youth Day, the global youth convention of his creation held every few years, was his primary venue for unleashing his enthusiastic encouragement towards youths. The essence of Pope John Paul’s message was always that Jesus Christ is the only way to true fulfillment in one’s life. The Catholic Church as well as all Christian traditions proclaims Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. However, some of Pope John Paul’s methods and interpretations of this “Truth”

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