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Bible Reflections View Comments

We Are More United Than Divided
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012
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There’s an old joke that goes, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into groups and those who don’t.” This reflects the number of other statements that begin the same way. While dividing people and groups into “us vs. them” seems to be a very human activity, we always need to remember that our ways are not God’s ways and that while we might exclude those who do not share our beliefs, God’s nature is always inclusive.

At some point in most religious movements, part of embracing the core beliefs of the movement involves believers then setting themselves apart from those who don’t share those beliefs. At its worst, this leads to the kinds of war and other violence that continue to tear apart so many places in our world today. Even in the best of situations, with respect and an openness to dialogue on all sides, there are no easy answers to the question of what to do with varying and, at times, opposing beliefs. We find it difficult to believe that we’re right without saying that someone else is wrong.

Our first reading from the book of Numbers shows us Moses in one of his better moments. He often struggled with the stubbornness of the Israelites and the ambitions of Aaron and Miriam, his brother and sister. But here, when Joshua wants to silence two people outside the camp who are prophesying, Moses says, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” This demonstrates a remarkable and graceful generosity of spirit on the part of the great leader.

Similarly in the Gospel, James and John object to someone who is healing in Jesus’s name but isn’t one of the Twelve or even apparently in the wider group of disciples. Jesus tells them, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.” When we’re tempted to dismiss a religious group for being “not like us” or when we become a little too triumphalist in our conviction that Catholicism is the one true faith, we need to step back and look at the intentions of others, as well as the good that they might be doing in the world.

The glory of the Catholic Church is not diminished by the sincere belief of those who hold to other faiths. The fact that we believe that we have the fullest possible manifestation of God’s grace in no way precludes God from reaching out to and saving those who believe differently. The wideness of God’s mercy and the reach of his saving hand is something that none of us can truly comprehend.

In October 2011, Pope Benedict XVI invited the leaders of all the world’s religions, as well as several prominent thinkers with no religious affiliation to join him in Assisi for the twenty-fifth anniversary of a similar gathering called together by John Paul II. Their prayers and speeches on that day called attention to the many common concerns of all God’s people: peace, the environment, an end to poverty. They reminded us once again that, no matter what our doctrines and beliefs, there is more that unites us than divides us. It’s good to take time to remember this, not only on a cosmic or global scale, but with the other people in our everyday lives.


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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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