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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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Elizabeth of Portugal: Elizabeth is usually depicted in royal garb with a dove or an olive branch. At her birth in 1271, her father, Pedro III, future king of Aragon, was reconciled with his father, James, the reigning monarch. This proved to be a portent of things to come. Under the healthful influences surrounding her early years, she quickly learned self-discipline and acquired a taste for spirituality. Thus fortunately prepared, she was able to meet the challenge when, at the age of 12, she was given in marriage to Denis, king of Portugal. She was able to establish for herself a pattern of life conducive to growth in God’s love, not merely through her exercises of piety, including daily Mass, but also through her exercise of charity, by which she was able to befriend and help pilgrims, strangers, the sick, the poor—in a word, all those whose need came to her notice. At the same time she remained devoted to her husband, whose infidelity to her was a scandal to the kingdom. 
<p>He, too, was the object of many of her peace endeavors. She long sought peace for him with God, and was finally rewarded when he gave up his life of sin. She repeatedly sought and effected peace between the king and their rebellious son, Alfonso, who thought that he was passed over to favor the king’s illegitimate children. She acted as peacemaker in the struggle between Ferdinand, king of Aragon, and his cousin James, who claimed the crown. And finally from Coimbra, where she had retired as a Franciscan tertiary to the monastery of the Poor Clares after the death of her husband, she set out and was able to bring about a lasting peace between her son Alfonso, now king of Portugal, and his son-in-law, the king of Castile.</p> American Catholic Blog In the name of the Father, use my mind to bring you honor, and of the Son, fill my heart to spread your word, and of the Holy Spirit, strengthen me to carry you out to all the world. Amen.

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