Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The blessing of unity

I think we can all agree that unity is a good thing. Psalm 133 says, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. 2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. 3 It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing-- Life forevermore."

King David wrote this psalm with the brothers Moses and Aaron in mind. A commentary on the Psalms says, "Moses, who had the status of the king of Israel, headed the judicial, legislative, and executive affairs of the Jews, whereas Aaron, the High Priest, led their spiritual service. These devoted brothers employed mutual love and tolerance to fuse the two estates into one harmonious unit, which functioned without friction."

Furthermore, both the High Priest and king are anointed with oil, "which is a symbol of the smooth and pleasant. Oil is a lubricant that prevents friction." Both priest and king were able to dwell together in unity and harmony because they "employed mutual love and tolerance" to lubricate the diverse aspects of their calling.

Our Catholic faith is alive with the spiritual and physical symbolism of oil -- for anointing the sick, for confirmation in the faith, for use as a sacramental, for exorcisms, for ordination, and for consecrating the altar. God knew what He was doing when He gave us these potent physical manifestations of His grace.

Recently, our parish staff has written articles that mention negative gossip in our parish directed against staff members, and have even preached homilies about it. In the June 27th bulletin, the problem is described as a "spiritual disease that. . . staff members have confronted of late."

The oil of love and tolerance that Jewish kings and priests were to employ seems absent in our parish. Just what does 'mutual love and tolerance' look like on the part of both a parish staff and a congregation?

The bulletin article relies heavily on quotes from Sister Joan Chittister, a controversial nun who has written many books and articles with a perspective that runs counter to Catholic teaching and doctrine. See here and here for more information on how Sister Joan lives out her faith. Isn't it a little ironic that the parish bulletin article, which issues a call for unity, uses the writings of a nun who has been described as a New Age feminist who defies Church authority and teaching?

Surely the staff member who wrote that article is aware of Sister Joan's perspective--a perspective that is widely out of step with the average parishioner, let alone the Catholic Church, as a whole. The article quotes Sister Joan as sharing the importance of "accentuating the positive and elminating the negative" in one's thoughts and speech. We are assured of the 'fact' "that we become what we think about."

Deftly linking the charge of parish gossip to negative thinking, parishioners are left with the impression that speaking a negative opinion or truth about any parish issue is a 'spiritual disease' that must be stopped immediately. The implication is subtle, but present.

Interestingly, the gossip is never exposed. We parishioners are all left to speculate about the gossip. Who is it about? What was said? Who said it? Where and when was it said? How paradoxical that the accusation of gossip, when not openly exposed and opposed with truth, actually causes more speculative questioning to occur!

Wouldn't it be more loving to expose the gossip? Tell us what the false and malicious rumors are! Tell the truth and let its sunshine dry up the poisoned fountain. The relationship between parties must be predicated upon mutualities; in this case, of love and tolerance and active trust. Those in a position of authority are just as obligated to express those qualities as are those under that authority.

When our Lord Jesus Christ got on His knees and washed the feet of His disciples, wasn't He giving an unmistakable lesson that His way, the Christ way, was one of servanthood, of humility? When He preached the Golden Rule -- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you -- he was speaking to everyone, those in authority included. No one, regardless of place or position, is exempted from striving to express the true brotherhood of man.

That's what the blessing of unity is all about. It isn't about compelling others to think and feel as you do. It is about loving others enough to let them be. It is about tolerating the differences in our diverse Catholic family. One great example of this unity--this love and tolerance--is that of the disciples. Jesus collected a diverse group of twelve men. They were political zealots and fishermen, and tax collectors. These disciples were able, through following the Christ way, to knit together a unity that launched a Church and movement that flourishes to this day.

No less is asked of Jesus' followers today -- regardless of their position. We are all called to that bond of unity. It is pleasant and good. It is a blessing. It requires that leaders, as well as followers, understand the two-way nature of unity. True leadership does not compell compliance--it inspires compliance. A leader who compells and forces his followers ultimately becomes a tyrant.

Unity is not just thinking positively or accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. It is acting positively and dealing actively with the inevitable negatives that come with our human lives--working through active love, and active tolerance for those over whom one has authority. We are brethren. And brethren deserve no less than a love that tolerates differences and is mutually caring. It can only bless all involved.


  1. This is an excellent piece. Can we shine light in the dark corners?

  2. Anonymous, thank you for your comment. We are praying that the website and blog will be vehicles to shine the light!

    God bless you.