Often times, when something happens that is a radical change, many years later, we find the change to be something that is not even worth a second look. For example, do we really understand just how explosive a change it was when Copernicus discovered that the Earth revolved around the sun and not the opposite? Yet, today, that concept is nothing more than kindergarten science.
Today’s feast and readings detail something similar. We need a little background. First understand that this is from the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew is written to the Messianic Jewish community, which is the community of Jews that have come to believe Jesus is the messiah. It is this community that with the gentiles converted through the preaching of the Apostles becomes the Catholic Church.
What makes this radical is that the Jewish community at this time and even today is one that is united by faith, nationality and culture. When God chose the Jews, he chose a culture that is a closely knit culture. Jews as a rule do not proselytize. So, a Jewish community will roots its ancestry through heritage, and through genes. There are certain diseases such as tay sacs and tourette syndrome which hit the Jewish community more than others. That is because of the genetic lineage of Jews.
When we look at today’s gospel, we see the first step in what had long been predicted by the prophets. That the non-Jews or gentiles will be invited to join God’s kingdom. The story of the three kings opens this door. Here we have the magi, who are not Jewish and are astrologers who come and worship the king. This brings two things. First, Pope Benedict tells us in his new encyclical on Hope that the astrologers adoring Christ end the dominance of astrology in the gentile word and turn the focus to Christ. Second, it is the first indication that the Kingdom of God will include non-Jews as well as the Messianic Jews to whom Matthew writes. This is a radical development for its time.
This is why, to this day, Catholicism, unlike Judaism is rooted faith, but not in biological heritage. It is our faith that unites us and not our ancestry nor nationality as Catholics. Indeed, the word Catholic means Universal or all people. That is the reason why I cringe when I hear people use the term multiculturalism in terms of the Catholic faith. As in we are a multi-cultural catholic community, because catholic means multi-cultural. As James Joyce said, Catholic means “Here comes everybody.”
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit united the Jews in the Old Testament by faith and culture. The prophets said that all would be united by faith across cultural lines and that is where we are in Catholicism. This has been the case since St. Peter received the message from the Holy Spirit that there were no longer clean and unclean animals in regard to gentiles interested in becoming part of the faith.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit that unites us by faith across cultural lines. We are denying the work of the Holy Spirit when we choose to unite across cultural lines keeping out people of our faith. This is why here at St. Benedict’s we have the special blessing of being able to share faith across cultural lines. This strengthens our witness of faith and deepens are service to Christ if we enter into that process.
Yet, I know there are some that feel challenged or even uncomfortable with that idea. That should not be surprising, the Holy Spirit always leads us to challenging ways of living our faith. Yet, the question always comes down to are we living our will of God’s.
I have been dealing with that challenge since the my seminary days. I remember, in my early days of priesthood, there was talk about parishes sharing resources. I remember when I was talking with a group from one parish where a spokesperson complained, “You mean we have to work with them?” The problem is that the them they were referring to was the exact same demographic as the we they were referring to. White Irish-American Catholic professionals. Yet, the thought of working across parish lines was something that made them skittish. However, if we are going to do the will of the Holy Spirit, then we have to go wherever he leads us.
This is why we have a unique gift here, because through the action of the Holy Spirit we have different perspectives on the same faith that allow us deepen our faith. For example, there are members of the Latino Community here who have been imprisoned for their faith in El Salvador. They give us a tremendous witness today of their faith in serving Christ with a joy that I can only admire. It is a call for us to turn from bitterness when we are mistreated for any reason, especially for our faith.
However, I have experienced tragic situations of those who reject that call of the Holy Spirit. I have fought with an order of nuns that did not allow the Latino community to use the classrooms in a Catholic school. That is just plain wrong. I remember the story of a parish in which the Vietnamese community was celebrating their martyrs. The Vietnamese celebrate the martyrs in a different parish in the Archdiocese every year. So, they were celebrating the martyrs in this one parish where there was a Vietnamese community among several other cultures. They have a great tribute to the martyrs that they usually leave up over the weekend. A Catholic woman seeing this said to me “Why can’t they do that somewhere else.” These people are recognizing someone who died for the faith, the very thing we believe in. How tragic an attitude to be so closed to the witness of those inspired by the Holy Spirit? How sinful an attitude it is as well?
The more we open ourselves to others and others are open to us, the deeper we can share and understand our relationship with Christ in ways that others who do not remain open will never know. This is why you will never see me working to make this parish rooted in one culture. We are working with people from several nations, including our own and several cultures including our own and this leads us to a deeper relationship with Christ because Christ can speak to us in ways through others that we cannot learn only through one culture.
Photos: Unity: Joeshmo at bigstockphoto.com
Three Kings: Lacreme at Bigstockphoto.com