Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
Last weekend I was in Salt Lake City for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Let me tell you, it was interesting. I made some good friends, saw a lot of people whom I hadn’t seen in a while, some I saw last week… but it was very interesting. I am convinced in today’s world you can sew a crazy hat and show up, call it a religion and they will give you a seminar. But generally speaking there were 80 countries and 50 religions represented, 9,500 in attendance. Our Catholic network, CADEIO (cadeio.org), for the first time sponsored a conference- long schedule of seminars and workshops, and provided an authentic Catholic presence where we hadn’t been represented much before. You may have seen in the news that there were “Catholics” there who confused people about our church, some ordained a woman, others tried to let people think that our Church has made changes that she hasn’t made. All the more reason to be there! No longer can we flee from the world because we think we will not be accepted or we will be misrepresented, or even belittled. We must give an authentic witness of who we are. So we did.
I was invited by the World Sikh Council to present the Catholic viewpoint with regard to two tenets of Sikhism that we share in common. The first was with regard to the Langar meal, a custom began by the first Sikh Guru, Nanak, in the 1400s that has continued to be a hallmark of Sikh life even today. The Langar is an open kitchen, where anyone can come and receive a home-cooked meal. Anyone. As a sign of the radical equality of Sikh society, all people sit on the floor in rows and members of the community serve them, wave after wave of people who come hungry. I was happy to explain the beautiful custom we now have in Fredericksburg, supported by the many volunteers of Saint Mary and all the downtown churches, of our Community Dinners. You see, you don’t have to be poor to be hungry, and you don’t have to be homeless to be lonely. Our compassion reaches out to all people, us, in the name of Jesus Christ who calls us to do this for the least of our brothers and sisters.
The other topic the Sikhs asked me to present was, as a panel member along with a native American and a Baha’i, the theology of the unity of humanity as created by God. I started with the reflection of Thomas Merton (you can find it in one of my homilies from a few weeks ago at the parish website), then traced the thoughts from Laudato sí (Pope Francis’ new encyclical on human responsibility and the environment), to a beautiful document of the International Theological Commission called “Communion and Stewardship,” to the theology of Henri de Lubac and theologians leading up to Vatican II, with the roots of their thoughts extending back to the first century Fathers of the Church.
I used as part of my presentation a beautiful account I learned this week about the unlikely meeting between Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement of the Church, and American Muslim Imam W. D. Muhammed of New York in Harlem, 1996. She said, “It seems that the Lord has placed him beside us, and the Lord has placed us beside him. Let’s go deep into our hearts where God is present and tell him we want to do this: We want good faith. We want to serve. We want to be brothers and sisters.”
He wrote, ” Once the oneness of God is impressed upon the heart, our nature transcends race, it transcends beliefs. It resides in the heart and makes us one, as God is one.”
When we approach our brothers and sisters in the human family of God our Father, if our encounter is honest and open to real encounter, it is something beyond a press photo or an annual meeting. I used in my presentation a new idea. In another Vatican document, “Dialogue and Proclamation,” dialogue is described in four ways: the dialogue of life, of (spiritual)experience, of theological exchange and of social action. When we approach one another on an interreligious level, that is, the level of completely different world religions, we begin with the dialogue between God and his creation, when by his Word he created all things and declared them good. This “Dialogue of Creation” is a new idea and, as I suggested in my paper, must be the ideal upon which all other dialogues between peoples must be based.
God has created no one who is deaf to his Word.
We have been prepared from the beginning by God for the moment of meeting, sensitive hearts ready to meet.
God bless you.