In the Gospel of Matthew (28:19), Jesus reminds us of our obligation to “go forth and make disciples of all nations.” His words clearly define the outward-reaching mission of the Church and powerfully declare her Catholicity. And given that the Church’s presence throughout the world is unlike any other organization, she is necessarily diverse. In the end, this diversity is a gift of and to the Church.
For many faithful observers, this is why recent U.S. government attempts at “declaring” just what exactly constitutes a religious organization is so clearly problematic. On one hand, such acts appear mischievous. On the other, one may hope that such deviance from historical precedent is the result of ignorance.
From time to time, however, it is helpful to consider and reflect upon the many wise voices who have thoughtfully reflected upon this diverse reality. As such, we’ll allow their words to tell this story.
In Lumen Gentium (Chapter One, 1964), the Fathers of the Vatican Council proclaimed that:
Christ is the light of the nations and consequently this holy synod, gathered together in the Holy Spirit, ardently desires to bring all humanity that light of Christ which is resplendent on the face of the Church, by proclaiming his Gospel to every creature…The Church, in Christ, is a sacrament- a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race.
In Words to Love By (1983), Blessed Teresa of Calcutta considered the true meaning of membership in God’s family.
The same loving hand that has created you has created me. If he is your Father he must be my Father also. We all belong to the same family. Hindus, Muslims and all peoples are our brothers and sisters. They too are the children of God. Our work among the Hindus proclaims that God loves them. God has created them. They are my brothers and sisters. Naturally, I would like to give them the joy of what I believe but that I cannot do; only God can. Faith is a gift of God but God does not force himself. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, believers and nonbelievers have the opportunity with us to do works of love, have the opportunity with us to share the joy of loving and come to realize God’s presence. Hindus become better Hindus. Catholics become better Catholics. Muslims become better Muslims.
During a 2002 lecture given at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Fr. Robert Schreiter offered a concrete rationale for attending to the needs of all persons.
Pastoral Care is attending and accompanying people in the context of the Church. By attending to people within pastoral situations, we embrace the Church’s theology of the dignity of the person. By accompanying people, we walk alongside people in their everyday lives and remain present to them. If we do these two things well, all else will fall into place.
In his 2001 pastoral letter, Dialogue between Cultures for a Civilization of Love and Peace, Blessed John Paul II promoted a deeper awareness of cultural differences.
The Son of God himself, by becoming man, acquired, along with a human family, a country. He remains forever Jesus of Nazareth, the Nazarean (cf. Mk 10:47; Lk 18:37; Jn 1:45; 19:19). Love for one’s country is thus a value to be fostered, without narrow-mindedness but with love for the whole human family and with an effort to avoid those pathological manifestations which occur when the sense of belonging turns into self-exaltation, the rejection of diversity, and forms of nationalism, racism, and xenophobia. Consequently, while it is certainly important to be able to appreciate the value of one’s own culture, there is also a need to recognize that every culture, as a typically human and historically conditioned reality, necessarily has its limitations. In order to prevent the sense of belonging to one particular culture from turning into isolation, an effective antidote is a serene and unprejudiced knowledge of other cultures. Cultural diversity should therefore be understood within the broader horizon of the human race.
In The Many Faces of Our Church (2002), Bishop Dale Melczek reflected that:
…Only through the demystification of culture will groups come to understand one another; that to understand one another, we must enter into another’s culture. By doing so, fear gives way to knowledge and trust. As such, we are enabled to begin to see the world from another person’s perspective and to feel more comfortable in that world.
In One Bread, One Body, One Eucharistic People (2001), Fr. David N. Power, O.M.I. emphasized that…”in Galatians, St. Paul mixes it up, stating…neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” As such, “diversities that divide are not of Christ. Diversities disappear within the Body of Christ; all are enriched!”
In Inclusion: Making Room for Grace (2002), Eric Law focuses upon our capacity for empathy.
In response to the question: Who is my neighbor, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan- and invites the questioner to use a different set of criteria to measure neighborliness. Rather than emphasizing a person’s ethnicity, power, and prestige within the religious community, one would do better to focus upon the person’s acts of compassion, even when these compassionate acts are done by someone like a Samaritan- who does not fit our perception of neighbor. Jesus calls us to step outside our safe space and consider a different set of assumptions, experiences, relationships, needs, and values.
When the Pharisee asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment of the Law, He replied:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with your entire mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two great commandments. (Mt. 22:34-40, Lk. 10:25-27)
Cardinal Francis George, in his pastoral letter entitled, Dwell in my Love (2001), called us to:
Abandon patterns of seeing those who are racially or culturally different from ourselves as strangers and to recognize them as brothers and sisters and to understand that ethnic, cultural, and racial diversities are gifts from God to the human race. Called to a radical love…we recognize that others may be different from us in every respect but one: each man, woman, and child is also a child of God. In loving the stranger whom we encounter, we also love Christ!
Today, when we hear certain elements of society chime that religion is a “private affair” whose mission declares that only those with a formal membership card need apply, perhaps the time is ripe for an expansion of their Summer Reading List.