Saturday, January 8, 2011

They'll know we are Christians by our love.

Something awful happened today.

The shooting of Congresswoman Giffords is a specific, personal tragedy, and I don't want to distract from it's specificity by making her a symbol. Yet we can't deny the country was shocked into awareness today, and many of us are thinking about the consequences of mean-spiritedness.

I think a lot about mean-spiritedness in my own religious context. Sometimes I wonder if anyone can be quite as mean as Catholics can be. So many of my fellow Catholics have bought the current politicial us-vs-them mentality hook, line and sinker. They are embattled, in the fortress, sole and indispensible defenders of the Body of Christ. If they do not keep the unworthy from the community, no one will!  I don't have the heart for that sort of combat, and I have the historical perspective to know it's not up to me to decide who is in and who is out.

That's where my head was when I got to mass this afternoon. The first thing I did with the organist was run the psalm - "The Lord will bless his people with peace". It was almost laughable in light of the heartwrenching afternoon. The Lord will bless us with peace - will we have it?

The first reading announced a favored one of God who "shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street." How often do we who cry out think we are being prophetic when we are really just being loud? The 'soldiers in the army of Christ' who profess a Church militant, who want to root out those who are unworthy of the faith - they may be as misguided as those who expected a zealous and violent Messiah.

God confounds us, and rather than drawing the boundaries we would like upon the Chosen People, God opens wide the doors and does what we least expect.

Fast-forward to the second reading. "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him." Remember, this is Peter talking - not exactly one for welcoming the stranger and opening wide the doors. If a primary theme of Acts is the demarcation of boundaries, its ultimate conclusion is that the net Christ cast was much wider than initially imagined. However you want to put it: "All God's critters got a place in the choir" or "Here comes everybody", the message is clear. Those who fear God and act justly are acceptable.

And then the familiar Gospel reading, with it's beautiful climax: "he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'" That's what I expected to blog about when I woke up this morning, how we need to listen to the voices that tell us we are pleasing, and listen for God's voice among them. After I was shocked by violence today, the Scripture did its marvelous work of meeting me where I am. The voice did not whisper to only a few. God's voice thundered to all.

I give a lot of thought to ecclesiology, enough to know that no religion exists without some sort of boundaries. How much damage do we do when we draw the lines too violently, when we presume the worst of people and don't act with charity?

As we prepared our altar to participate in Christ's sacrifice and the Church's feast, we sang "They'll know we are Christians by our love". Love is not pompous, nor rude, nor self-interested. I have to work as hard as anyone to live the love that Paul describes in 1 Cor 13. I know there are people who claim to be acting out of "tough love" when they harangue Christians who don't meet their expectations. Sorry folks, but I have to call shenanigans on that. I know what charity looks like, and vitriolic criticism it ain't.

It's not good for any of us to live in a constant state of defensiveness, ready to throw a punch at anyone who endangers our Church (or our country, or our paradigm, or...). I for one am ready to relax, to let my guard down against a Them who may not even exist, and trust that God can take care of us, of the Church, and even of God's self.


  1. As I scrolled through Facebook trying to ignore all the lines being drawn in the sand and all the condemnations of Them, the links to Sarah Palin's gun sights, those links something like rhetorical gun sights themselves, I saw your links to your posts, and immediately opened them up, because I knew that what you would have to say would provide a wider perspective and would put me in touch with the things I believe deepest down, the things that get lost in my frustration with "both sides." I hadn't realized that your blog plays that role, but thanks for providing one of the few places I can reliably turn for that kind of peace-inducing perspective.

    And, like Scripture, your words met me where I am tonight: "it's not good for any of us to live in a constant state of defensiveness . . ." Thanks for that, too.

  2. Once again, your thoughtful reflections have touched the heart of this OFB. Thank you, my friend.