Daily Reflection
January 25th, 2005
Eileen Burke-Sullivan
Theology Department
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Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

Acts 22:3-16
Psalm 117:1bc, 2
Mark 16:15-18

Unity is a characteristic of the Christian movement that we assert in faith every Sunday, but recognize is not really very material to our experience of Christianity every other day of the week.  Never has the Christian movement seemed more fragmented.  Even within monolithic Catholicism there is serious infighting.  I recall a few years ago that in the Archdiocese where I was residing the Archbishop would not allow a fellow Catholic Bishop (in very good standing) from another diocese to speak at a public function because he disagreed with him on some specific topic.  Certain Catholic journals accuse other members of the Church of begin heretics while so-called Catholic television commentators urge the baptized to defy their bishop because they disagree with him on a matter of liturgical practice.  No, it does not seem to be a good time for unity in the Church or among Christian Churches despite years of efforts at ecumenism.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, the day that multiple Christian Churches have climaxed a week of prayer for Christian Unity for almost a century.  It is a day we should be thinking deeply about the characteristic of unity and about the demands of conversion to a spirit of unity.  In our fractured world, our fragmented Church, in our divided homes, schools and workplaces, the concept of unity seems dim and far away. 

Yet some would say, better the division and rancor that we experience than some form of coerced unity. Surely there is nothing worse than everyone and everything looking or thinking alike.  In one of her children’s stories Madeleine L’Engle tells of a terrible planet where everyone follows the directives of a single mind, and the Star Trek series created a similar image of terror with its planet of “the Borg.”  The message there seems to be “think and do as I do or be gone.” 

But such an attitude in real life or in science fiction is not unity but uniformity. A human enemy of divine unity.  The very character of unity is the agreement of opposites, of differences, of otherness, to be compassionate in caring for and attentive to the unlike precisely as different. Not to make them the same.  Marriage, of course, is the ideal paradigm.  There is no greater biological difference among humans than between males and females.  No racial or ethnic differences are as dramatic as those between men and women, and yet the biblical analogy for divine unity is the agreement of a man and a woman to brave the deep biological differences to become one in intention and hope; not subsuming or consuming one another, but enhancing one another, perfecting each other.

Few achieve such a wonderful union, but it remains the hope to be followed, the ideal to be sought and prayed for.  Similarly, today’s readings call believers to be transformed by God’s Spirit and to be converted from fire-breathing destroyers of  “the others” – those who disagree with me – to men and women on fire to serve “the others” with God’s mercy and forgiveness.  To be transformed from those blind to all but our own wills to be sighted with the clarity of God’s Desire.

When we are truly converted toward God’s kind of unity, we exercise the power of God that alone can hold various forces of destruction in check – be they lying serpents or demonic anger. Such unity is grounded in mutual freely chosen commitments to the good of a whole.  But such a large or universal good must be informed by the ideas, the insight and the experience of the whole.  Thus such unity depends upon those at the center listening attentively to those who dwell on the margins (and vice versa), and whole groups listening with compassion to the needs and hopes of those in another camp or worldview . . . and so it goes.  Unity, like charity, begins at home in each one’s converted heart.

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