Unity and diversity — we must have both

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I’ve always been an avid reader, which probably led to becoming a writer. As any author or those who teach writing will attest, the best advice to aspiring authors is read, read and read.

I used to wonder how busy writers could find time to read, but only after I began writing professionally was I able to understand the importance of seeking and ingesting the works of other authors. Unless we ponder the wisdom of a myriad of voices, we end up simply recycling our own thoughts.

As a writer, I find inspiration in poetry, biographies, novels and commentaries on people, events and ideologies of all stripes. Years ago, I started keeping a notebook in which I enter quotes that inspire, noting sources since I never know when I might defer to the author’s wisdom.

When I’m stuck for an idea for a column or a magazine article, I often peruse the pages of my notebook, gleaning from authors far more gifted than myself. As a wise priest once told me, “There is no such thing as a truly original thought because all thoughts and ideas are filtered through and build on the works and theories of people who have come before us.”

While grappling with the ever-deepening divisions in our society, and sadly in our Church, I came upon an excerpt from a homily about the gift of unity given by Pope Francis.

Prophetically, the Holy Father warned against diversity without unity, which he said, “happens when we want to separate, when we take sides and form parties, when we adopt rigid and airtight positions, when we become locked into our own ideas and ways of doing things, perhaps even thinking we are better than others or always right… becoming Christians of the right or the left.”

The other temptation, according to Pope Francis, was unity without diversity because then “unity becomes uniformity, where everyone has to do everything together, in the same way, always thinking alike. Then unity becomes homogeneity and no longer freedom” (Pope Francis, Homily, Feast of Pentecost, 2017).

Jesus warned that households will be divided: “Father will be divided against son and son against father, daughter against mother and mother against daughter, mother-in-law against daughterin- law against mother-in-law” (Lk 12:53).

Cognizant of our weakness, Jesus warned it would happen, but he also cautioned: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand” (Mt 12:25).

On the night before he died, Jesus prayed “that all may be one as you Father are in me, and I am in you” (Jn 17:21).

As individuals and as a Church, we continue to evolve and grow in the spirit of God who is love. Rather than spreading division, let us call on the fire of the Holy Spirit, burning within the Church, to purify all who call themselves Christians. Despite our penchant for covering the spirit of love with the ash of our sins, Jesus promised he would remain with us.

However, lest we become like the Pharisees, ready to cast stones at others while ignoring our own sins, let us ask for a heart that knows and experiences the Church as our Mother and our home. Only then will the Spirit of God, who dwells in our souls and in the heart of the Church, guide and lead us to unity, to love as God loves and to hate the sin but love the sinner so that we may truly be one in the Father as Jesus is one in him.

We say this is what we desire, but current events prove we are unwilling to pay the price. We cannot be Christians without the cross. It was by design that Jesus entered the desert and was tempted after his baptism by John. As always, he taught first by example and then by word, which makes Scripture the gold standard for all believers.

Looking for miracles, wanting to leapfrog over the passion and death to the victory of the resurrection is not an option. Shortcuts are not allowed for those who follow in the footsteps of our Savior. Having been sealed with the sign of the cross at baptism, we are to take up our cross, as Jesus said we must, trusting that “All things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).

Each day is a new beginning, with countless opportunities to mend our ways. Like the Israelites who gathered manna from the desert floor, may we find bread for the journey in the Word of God and also in the prophetic voices of the meek and humble of heart, who mirror the presence of God in our midst.

Barbara Hughes is an author, retreat facilitator and spiritual guide. She lives in Virginia Beach and can be reached at brhughes16@gmail.com.

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