Note from Archbishop Roger Schwietz: In June we celebrated the weekend of Pentecost with a joyful celebration of the ordination of our seminarian Arthur Roraff to the transitional diaconate. That means he is in the final year of preparation before being ordained a priest for our archdiocese. In his first homily as a deacon, Arthur gave a thoughtful reflection on the issue of diversity — a concept that is often dealt with in the media today. I would like to make his insights my own as I share with you his words. I hope that you can continue to reflect on the real meaning of “diversity” as you read his words, and I pray for Deacon Arthur, as well as our other seminarians as they continue their journey. The following text is from Deacon Arthur’s first homily.
To put some context to Pentecost it is important for us to go back almost 1,000 years before Pentecost, to the Tower of Babel. The Tower of Babel was the opposite of Pentecost. Babylon was a highly developed and successful civilization. But the Babylonians became so caught up with their success they thought there was no limit to what they could do. In their overconfidence they tried to build a tower to God, the Tower of Babel.
They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky.” They thought they were greater than God. Their motives were pride and arrogance. In short, Babel was man’s design for God. They put their will ahead of God’s will and the result was disunity and disorder with God and with each other. They were no longer ordered towards God first. Their own will became more important. God humbled them by confusing their language and ability to communicate with each other. Theirs was a story of disunity.
Now, fast forward to Pentecost. Jesus had already ascended to heaven. The disciples were all in one place. Their purpose was none other than to do the will of God but they wondered how. They spoke different languages. But because of their unity in desiring to do the will of God they were able to understand each other. God breathed the Holy Spirit upon them and what was common in their hearts and minds — to do the will of God — was communicated through their lips in a way that they could understand each other, despite their different languages. At Pentecost God turned the many into one. At Pentecost the one Church was born. This is a story of unity.
In Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he develops this idea of the unity of the church. He writes about the church as a body.
“As the body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the Body, though many, are one body,” he writes. “So also Christ.”
So, not only are we like a body, we are a body — the body of Christ. But like a body we each have different roles to play. Parents have different roles from their children. Teachers have different roles from firefighters. Mothers have different roles from fathers. And individually we also have different personalities that play important roles. But — and this is the important part — amidst our diversity there is an underlying unity that holds us together. This unity comes from our common baptism into the Body of Christ where we seek to know and do the will of God. We use our various gifts, skills and personalities to do the will of the one who created us. Our diversity is vitally important but it must always be in the service of unity in Christ. Diversity for the sake of diversity is chaos. Diversity for the sake of diversity leads to disunity. Diversity at the service of unity of the Body of Christ gives us our mission in life.
Pope Francis addressed these ideas about unity and diversity on his recent trip to the Holy Land. He said, “The mission of the Holy spirit, in fact, is to beget harmony — he is himself harmony — and to create peace in different situations and between different people. Diversity of ideas and persons should not trigger rejection or prove an obstacle, for variety always enriches.” But he goes on to say that this diversity must be grounded in Jesus Christ when he says, “He anointed Jesus inwardly and he anoints his disciples, so that they can have the mind of Christ and thus be disposed to live lives of peace and community.”
When we realize that our mission is to put on the mind of Christ and to build up the Body of Christ the only remaining question is, “How?”
For this we turn to the Gospel. It is a familiar scene — just as the disciples had gathered together after Christ died. However, in this story Jesus appears to them. What he says and does is truly amazing and tells the disciples how to live this mission to build up the Body of Christ. First he says, “Peace be with you.” Then he shows them the wounds in his hands, feet and side. Then he says “Peace be with you” again. Does this stand out to any of you? The contrast between peace and the wounds is startling. It seems that he is saying the peace I give you, the peace of unity, comes through complete sacrifice. Peace costs something … everything.
The next line is just as startling. This is a line that we too easily breeze past and don’t realize how shocking it is. He says, “And as the Father has sent me so I send you.” And how did the Father send his son? He sent him into our world to give him to the world totally. He did not say, “You can have my son but only if you are nice to him.” He gave him totally and completely, all the way to his death. This was also the mission of the disciples — to give of themselves totally and without reservation to build up the church, the Body of Christ.
So now we fast forward to today. The mission the disciples were given is also our mission. When Jesus said, “So I send you.” He means you! You are the modern day disciples and your mission is the same. As we sit here on Pentecost Sunday, the day we recognize as the birth of the church do we take the mission that was given to us 2,000 years ago seriously? This does not necessarily mean that we will be martyred for the faith, but it does mean that we must give our lives over to God so that he may use our individuality and diversity in the service of building up the church, the Body of Christ.
I realize this sounds difficult and it is. But it is what we were made for. And here is the really good news, this is where you will ultimately find true joy and fulfillment because this is why God made you. He made us to be in unity with each other and to be one with him. When we do this there will be no barriers between us. We will be able to speak to each other, through our differences, heart to heart.