Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
This has been a rich couple of days at our CADEIO (Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers) Institute for Ecumenical Formation in DC. One of the leaders of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity for 26 years in Rome is leading our Institute, and priests and lay leaders from across the U.S. have entered into a few days of continuing education. We leave for Africa tomorrow—I wish I could tell you about that already, but as usual, I’ll write about that next week and will be home already when you are reading about it! Please know that we will carry your intentions in our prayers and Masses throughout our mission pilgrimage to South Africa and Namibia.
Well, we were talking today at the Institute, and our conversation began to work around to the topic of unity (naturally). One of those attending our classes is a new bishop, and he has some incredible insight, very well-read in all that the Pope has written. He was telling us that Pope Francis said, in one of his presentations in Rome, that “The mystery of unity has already begun.” It seems sort of obvious, but we tend not to appreciate the reality that has already happened. The fact that some of us are even together studying and preparing how to work toward unity in our dioceses proves that the mystery is begun already. God begins the work we do with the desire in our hearts, then he gives us the strength to follow through. “As we are walking together toward Christ, we are coming closer together to each other.”
This image is a classic one of spiritual writers. Imagine a wagon wheel with many spokes. Christ is at the center, and each of us is at a point on the circumference of the wheel’s circle. As each of us comes to the center, like the spokes of the wheel, each of us also comes closer to each other. It is a fact in the spiritual life that all we need to do is seek him, and we will find each other.
But this bishop also said something that I found so powerful, perhaps because I think of it a lot, too. Pope Francis speaks of this a lot. He said that the one resulting thing, if we are seeking Christ, is that our closeness to Christ also demands that we pay attention to the relationships that result among us. These relationships come with the deal. They demand reverence, because their closeness to God makes them holy. Pope Francis, in his “Joy of the Gospel,” says that time is greater than space. Space is just here or there, but time allows us to make something out of that space. He likes to use the image of planting seeds. In fact, that was his simple message to us Buddhists and Catholics when we met him in Rome: “The world is a place of confusion of violence. I am thankful that you are here, planting seeds of peace. Yes,…planting seeds. …this is important.”
Time allows us to enter and grow by our relationships. We are always better people together than we are alone, we always grow more, learn more about ourselves, learn patience and gentleness, above all self-less-ness, when we are with other people. It is the purpose for community: we are defined by our love, and our love can’t have meaning if we are alone. Relationships are not plannable. They surprise us, and we must remain open to them. Above all, open to our relationship with God, but also all those whom he has placed in our lives.
“But at what point,” my friend the bishop asked, “does the individualism of today become selfdestructive?” You see it everywhere. People acting out all over the place out of self interest, by some inwardly-driven hatred or indifference to those around them? How many marriages do you know that have ended just out of selfishness? Family relationships, too. We were never placed here to serve only ourselves. We live in a time when this individualism has been enshrined as the ideal of life. It is a lie. It is a trap you can get lost in.
There are a few values we must rediscover, between individuals, between churches and nations. Willingness to change, in the sense of conversion of heart. I must change. We must pray together more as an integral part of our relationships. We must be willing to heal memories. The past, simply, is usually not pleasant but it can’t define this moment, now. We must intentionally live virtue, especially humility and charity. We must seek friendship that feeds our spirits, not our appetites, but our souls.
If we could but fix our relationships, maybe we’d have a better shot at changing the world.
God bless you.