When I was a teen, it was akin to a mortal sin for a Catholic to attend a Protestant worship service, much less marry a person of another faith. That is no longer true. Instead, when we died to our superior and exclusivist attitudes toward Protestants, we discovered that God had been sowing and reaping in them all along and they had much to teach us.
Similarly, I was in 5th grade when a Spanish-speaking Cuban family moved into the 100% white Catholic town where I grew up. Fascinated by their language and culture, I befriended the funny, smart girl in my class. But the family moved away after enduring 5 months of getting their car egged, reading threatening notes on their door, having people refuse to offer them the Sign of Peace at Mass, and being ignored by store clerks. All of this was done, of course, by the town’s good, upright Catholics clinging to their lives of exclusivity and superiority rather than following Jesus by welcoming the stranger, dying to their own power, and realizing that the family could enrich the town. Jesus was willing to sit at table with everyone who came. Are we?
As more people of other cultures find a home within our country, do we complain that they are ruining our “American way of life” or do we look for all the ways they contribute to our society as it continues to be shaped, sown, grown, and brought to harvest? How can we become “cheerful givers” who lend generously to the poor and marginalized, who nurture seedlings in every race and culture so they can realize their potential, and who bring new life to every person we encounter?
These are tough questions. It’s always hard to die to self. When a person literally dies, they learn to let go of so many things that defined life for them. As all is stripped away, they are left with only those things that are truly important, and the experience transforms them if they let it. Even as they die, they are born again in new ways.
Jesus calls us to do that before we physically die. He wants us to do the demanding work of stripping away everything except that which is truly important. He wants to crack the hard seed coat that separates us from the “other” so we can look at persons of every race, religion, and culture and see ourselves in them. He wants us to reach out in welcoming, open-armed, generous, overflowing love. He wants us to sow and reap in abundance, celebrate and learn from our “otherness”, reject notions of scarcity that keep us from sharing for fear there won’t be enough for ourselves, and teach lessons in word and deed that ensure unity (not uniformity), respect, and shared life. If we can do that, and only if we do that, the kingdom of God will flourish on this earth and righteousness will endure forever.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.