Hi everyone, and welcome to Weekly Homilies with Father Mark Suslenko, Pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. We are part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford. I'm Carol Vassar, parish director of communications, and this is Episode 20 of Season 5 for the Seventh Sunday of Easter: May 29, 2022. Our Gospel reading is from John, Chapter 17, verses 20-26
Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”
The Gospel of the Lord
“Unity in Diversity” by Father Mark S. Suslenko, Pastor, SS. Isidore and Maria Parish, Glastonbury, Connecticut
Sitting here, some 2,000 plus years since the death, resurrection, and Ascension of Christ, and also on the threshold of next weekend's joyous feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, we hear a prayer on Jesus' lips. A prayer for a unity that all may be one. That Jesus and the Father are as one. A prayer for unity amongst the followers of Christ.
So as we sit here today at this juncture in history with the entire history of Christianity behind us, can we honestly say that Jesus' prayer has been answered? Have we achieved the unity after which he sought? I think the answer is no.
We live in a very divided Church. As we watch Christianity develop over the centuries, we see it very quickly become a religion of boxes. Boxes of theologies and ideologies, boxes that separated one group of Christians from another, boxes that kept people within their own turf, boxes that divided. Heated arguments often ensued, debating one theological point to another, and in all that came and went, the unity that Christ sought suffered.
Even within our own particular church, the Catholic Church, divisions abound. We continue to put boxes of theologies together, boxes that separate and divide. We've even done this with our parish churches, my parish, your parish, and never the twain shall meet. We keep ourselves quite separated. As you look at Jesus' desire for unity, and we look at how the Church has developed over the centuries, it leads us yet to another question that has to do with the philosophy that we sometimes bring to the issue of unity, and it's this. "Is unity only achieved through conformity?" Is unity only achieved through conformity?
In other words, can we achieve unity only when everyone is thinking the same thing, everyone is believing the same thing. Everyone is doing the same thing, and everyone is acting in the same way. Or is there another way through and to unity, through the door of diversity? Can people who think different things come together as one? It's not a question that I pretend to answer today, but one that I pose for our own further digestion and discussion.
As we consider how we know things, our knowledge of individuals or groups can sometimes make us divisive. Especially when we find ourselves differing in opinions, even one to the next. It's sometimes helpful to go back to the basics to consider the early Church, the life of those first disciples.
We know that it was a very successful endeavor. We read through scripture that the Church spread rapidly. That the message of Good News had an impact on thousands and thousands of people. What is different then to today? What has happened in the process? You know, if you listen to people on the outside of Christianity offering their impressions or their critiques of what they see in the lives of Christians, many of them come back with things like this: "They're very critical. They're very exclusive. They're very self-serving. They're very, self-protective. They're not very relevant. They've lost their voice. It's not something I want to associate with." Those are the kinds of impressions that people have, and whether the impressions are right or wrong, isn't the point of today. An impression is an impression, and it's created based on something that people have witnessed and seen.
So in the lives of those early disciples who were so successful, what really unified them? They didn't have theology, they didn't have established churches. They had something deeper, something that we have lost through the centuries and need to reclaim if we're going to retrieve our voice and continue the mission of Jesus Christ. And it's this: when we consider all that we know, all the knowledge that we can acquire, even secular knowledge, knowledge about God especially, we can have the best theology, we can have the best wisdom, but as human beings sitting where we are, there is no knowledge that can ever capture the essence of God.
You see, as much as we try and as much as we think we can, there's no perfect box for God. It's impossible. It's impossible to put God in such black and white terms that he fits in a convenient box of our choice. God always lives in mystery, and it's the mystery of his inexhaustible presence. If we ever think that we know the mind and heart of God, we are so sadly mistaken because we would then be God ourselves.
We cannot know the vastness of the eternal one. We always have to humbly place ourselves in the position of not knowing. And we have to humbly admit that we don't always know the truth of truth. And that's where the disciples were. They were in that place of the humility of not knowing. You know when Jesus said that he and the Father were one, do you think they had the understanding of Trinitarian theology that we bring to those words today?
No, they hadn't been developed yet. But what they had was an encounter with mystery. They knew because of the person of Jesus Christ, that there was a power, a presence, something different here that ignited them, that attracted them, that inspired them, that propelled them to want to do something about this because they encountered this mystery, the mystery of the unknown.
And that is a unifying principle. When you think about it, everyone in this room today could have a different opinion about something, but we are united, one to the other, in the humility of unknowing. We all have to admit to everyone else that we don't always know the truth. That we don't have a handle on the vastness of reality. That our experience of God is really meant to be one of presence, not ideas. That we're meant to encounter the living God as those first disciples did, which would ignite us and inspire us and tell us that there's something divinely wonderful about this world at which we live, and this life that I lead.
Mystery, the first unifying principle in diversity.
The second is mission. The disciples were given a very simple directive, go out and preach the Good News. In other words, go out and tell people about the kingdom of God. Go out and preach the message of love and forgiveness and justice and mercy and peace. Go out and show people how to be better human beings. And that's what they did.
See, ignited by the fire of the mystery of God's presence and the encounter of Jesus Christ as a person, and committed to the mission of the Gospel, which they saw as the answer to life, what they were looking for, they went out joyfully, they lived amazing lives and did astonishing things. So much so that when they built these new communities of faith, people looked at them and they said, "We want what you have because you're living life differently. You're living life more holy. You're living life better. And we want, where did you get that from?"
Because there was a marked difference of character around those early Christians. And it was because of that example that it spread like wildfire. But they were committed to the mission and between the encounter with the person of Jesus Christ and a commitment to the mission, they went out into the world joyfully. They didn't go out with their bickering and with their arguing, they went out joyfully to proclaim the Good News, and to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, making more disciples as they went.
And so when we put it all together, the mission and the fate of the Christian message really does rest on us, and whether we are a relevant voice in a so very broken world. I think most of us are really saddened by a lot of what we see happening in our world today. Not only the wars that break out so needlessly, but the unnecessary suffering of children and the taking of innocent life. The world is in need of a relevant voice of peace, a relevant voice of love and justice, more so perhaps than any other time in history, human beings need to learn how to be better human beings.
And we have the answer here in the presence of Jesus Christ. We have the answer here in the mission of the Gospel. Even with our differing opinions and different ideas, if we stop thinking with our heads for a moment and started thinking more with our hearts, if we accept the differences that are existing in one another and get you what unites us, then maybe Jesus' prayer can still be answered. And that all who believe can find themselves as one, as Jesus and the Father are one. And maybe our hurting and broken world will find itself a little bit more whole and better because we have traveled through it.
Father Mark Suslenko is the pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Learn more about our parish community at www.isidoreandmaria.org. And follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our music comes free of charge from Blue Dot Sessions in Fall River, Massachusetts. I’m Carol Vassar. Thanks for joining us.