"A lay Catholic perspective"

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Amen, Hallelujah!

by Theresa Burke


AS A CHILD GROWING UP in the Church in the 1950's I received the message loud and clear — we stick with our own kind. It was considered unwise, unacceptable, perhaps even sinful, to associate in any way with non-Catholics. I don't recall ever questioning this attitude, though today I can hardly believe that I swallowed this distorted thinking without a murmur. As an adult I repeatedly bump into folks who are my age and who lived in my neighborhood but whom I had never met, simply because they attended The Public School!

But God wasn't finished with us. When the time was exactly right, his Holy Spirit blew a fresh wind of reform and renewal through the Second Vatican Council and out into the farthest reaches of the Church. Our current thinking was turned inside-out and upside-down by the Council, which reiterated our fundamental belief in the mission of the Church: to bear witness to the truth that God, through the mystery of the incarnation, had gathered all of humankind into one family. We are called to honor what is true and holy in all religions, celebrating our similarities and building relationships based on love and compassion, thus affirming the universality of the Gospel.

Henri Nouwen writes so beautifully in his book Lifesigns of the inclusiveness of the new covenant established by Jesus, whose message of love is for all people.

In the house of God's love we come to see with new eyes and hear with new ears and thus recognize that all people, whatever their race, religion, sex, wealth, intelligence, or background, belong to the same house. God's house has no dividing wall or closed doors. The more fully we enter into the house of love, the more clearly we see that we are there together with all humanity and that in and through Christ we are brothers and sisters, members of one family.

It is ironic that my husband and I were led to a deep appreciation of the teachings and writings of Henri Nouwen, a prolific and eloquent contemporary Catholic author, by dear friends who are faithful members of the Mennonite Church! We have learned much from them about what faith looks like in action and about how much we have to offer one another if we keep our minds open to the truth wherever it expresses itself.

It is not for me to judge or condemn the adults of my childhood for focusing on how I was different from, or better than, other people. Instead I am grateful for this new-found opportunity to experience the joy and the solidarity and the challenge that comes from believing that I am part of the human family.