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Bible Reflections View Comments

We Are More United Than Divided
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012
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There’s an old joke that goes, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into groups and those who don’t.” This reflects the number of other statements that begin the same way. While dividing people and groups into “us vs. them” seems to be a very human activity, we always need to remember that our ways are not God’s ways and that while we might exclude those who do not share our beliefs, God’s nature is always inclusive.

At some point in most religious movements, part of embracing the core beliefs of the movement involves believers then setting themselves apart from those who don’t share those beliefs. At its worst, this leads to the kinds of war and other violence that continue to tear apart so many places in our world today. Even in the best of situations, with respect and an openness to dialogue on all sides, there are no easy answers to the question of what to do with varying and, at times, opposing beliefs. We find it difficult to believe that we’re right without saying that someone else is wrong.

Our first reading from the book of Numbers shows us Moses in one of his better moments. He often struggled with the stubbornness of the Israelites and the ambitions of Aaron and Miriam, his brother and sister. But here, when Joshua wants to silence two people outside the camp who are prophesying, Moses says, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” This demonstrates a remarkable and graceful generosity of spirit on the part of the great leader.

Similarly in the Gospel, James and John object to someone who is healing in Jesus’s name but isn’t one of the Twelve or even apparently in the wider group of disciples. Jesus tells them, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.” When we’re tempted to dismiss a religious group for being “not like us” or when we become a little too triumphalist in our conviction that Catholicism is the one true faith, we need to step back and look at the intentions of others, as well as the good that they might be doing in the world.

The glory of the Catholic Church is not diminished by the sincere belief of those who hold to other faiths. The fact that we believe that we have the fullest possible manifestation of God’s grace in no way precludes God from reaching out to and saving those who believe differently. The wideness of God’s mercy and the reach of his saving hand is something that none of us can truly comprehend.

In October 2011, Pope Benedict XVI invited the leaders of all the world’s religions, as well as several prominent thinkers with no religious affiliation to join him in Assisi for the twenty-fifth anniversary of a similar gathering called together by John Paul II. Their prayers and speeches on that day called attention to the many common concerns of all God’s people: peace, the environment, an end to poverty. They reminded us once again that, no matter what our doctrines and beliefs, there is more that unites us than divides us. It’s good to take time to remember this, not only on a cosmic or global scale, but with the other people in our everyday lives.


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Conversion of St. Paul: Paul’s entire life can be explained in terms of one experience—his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In an instant, he saw that all the zeal of his dynamic personality was being wasted, like the strength of a boxer swinging wildly. Perhaps he had never seen Jesus, who was only a few years older. But he had acquired a zealot’s hatred of all Jesus stood for, as he began to harass the Church: “...entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment” (Acts 8:3b). Now he himself was “entered,” possessed, all his energy harnessed to one goal—being a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one Savior. 
<p>One sentence determined his theology: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5b). Jesus was mysteriously identified with people—the loving group of people Saul had been running down like criminals. Jesus, he saw, was the mysterious fulfillment of all he had been blindly pursuing. </p><p>From then on, his only work was to “present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Colossians 1:28b-29). “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and [with] much conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5a). </p><p>Paul’s life became a tireless proclaiming and living out of the message of the cross: Christians die baptismally to sin and are buried with Christ; they are dead to all that is sinful and unredeemed in the world. They are made into a new creation, already sharing Christ’s victory and someday to rise from the dead like him. Through this risen Christ the Father pours out the Spirit on them, making them completely new. </p><p>So Paul’s great message to the world was: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything you can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ, a commitment that then bears fruit in more “works” than the Law could ever contemplate.</p> American Catholic Blog If you’re confused as to why God would die for you, you either need to rethink your vision of His mercy or of your own worth.

 
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