Some time ago, I came across the NOVA science program on PBS. This specific broadcast was about the heart and its function within the body. One of the many surprising things I learned about the heart was that a living heart cell pulsates in rhythm. During the program, they actually showed one beating! To my amazement, I learned that separate heart cells will pulsate according to their “own” rhythm until they touch another cell. These two cells will then pulsate in unison in an entirely different rhythm. Once they “touch,” they are changed and work as one.
Keep this in mind as I finalize the series on Pope Francis’ Beatitudes for a new age. His last one is: “Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.”
As I prepared for this article, I went to the internet to do some research about Pope Francis on this topic. What I learned blew my mind! Did you know that Christianity unity was one of the three primary objectives of Vatican Council II, along with the renewal of the liturgy and promoting peace and unity among all peoples and nations? We have been working at this for more than 50 years? A part of me thinks, “All this time and we still haven’t gotten it right? Well, where there is life, there is hope.”
Even though these “modern day” Beatitudes were penned by Pope Francis in 2016, this last one, I believe, can be viewed through the lens of our global crisis. COVID has affected every person in every country throughout the entire world. Yes, I know you know this, but, at least for me, this reality stresses the fact that we are all interconnected, that we all belong to one family created by God. Through this lens, it doesn’t matter where you live, our actions truly affect people across the world! We are indeed all in this together. There is an inter-country unity fighting this like we have never seen before!
Besides the pandemic, we, as Americans, have seen the fracturing of our country across racial and political lines. Reports on the news focus on the cries of political and racial unrest. It seems, at least to me, that many people have forgotten how to talk civilly with each other when they come to a topic from opposite view points. It is immediately, “If you don’t agree with me then you are my enemy! Let’s fight!” It almost seems that we are in a constant flight or fight mode. Another part of this unrest is the societal attitude that if you stand for anything that has to do with a religious belief, you are prejudiced, antiquated, and out of touch.
What a tangled mess this is. Yet, all we need is one individual to stand up to work for communion between peoples. What does that look like? First, by listening without judging. Different experiences and perspectives cause people to behave in a different way.
We get that different countries and nationalities have different cultures. But, have you ever stopped to think that each family unit (I am aware that “family” can be defined very differently among people) has a “culture” that is unique within it? Each place of business also has a culture that is unique to it. As a friend once told me, “We have rules!” Those rules, even the ones that are not spoken, are the building bricks of what culture is all about.
Taking off the lens of the pandemic and looking at this Beatitude as it was written, have you ever thought, “The Catholic Church is unique because Christ, her founder, has endowed her with all the means of salvation: the fullness of the elements of sanctification and truth that God intends for his people.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 8, 14 and Decree on Ecumenism, 3: both documents from the Vatican Council) Basically, these documents seek unity in truth.
And here is where it gets even trickier. Even though society declares that truth is dependent on what “I” think, we believe that there is an objective truth that has been given to us by God Himself.
In short, we are called to listen in love to those who disagree with us. That profound listening causes our hearts to beat as one. This is what Jesus prayed in his priestly prayer before his death, “That all may be one!”
I can hear you say, “Come on Sister, how can I, someone from ____ (insert hometown here) work for Christian unity?” Yes, most of us are not on the front lines, but you can work for it! First and foremost, through prayer. Second, make a conscious effort to actually listen to people who believe differently than you do! If we all do this, unity would be felt throughout the earth. Our hearts would beat as one!
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness