Diversity’s blessings


27 Dec 2023

When it comes to the prayer life of Catholics it’s not a case of one size fits all.

When we discover something that has changed our lives we often think that everyone else’s life will be better if they also discover it. We come across Derry Girls, for example, and are blown away by it. Or we take up swimming at dawn in all weathers. We then badger all our friends to join us. That can also happen in living out our faith. We discover a devotion, a prayer, a spiritual tradition that makes us see God’s world in colour and not black and white. We might imagine that the salvation of ourselves and others depend on it. We naturally try to help others see the light.

Normally that is harmless – we delight in the stories of grandmothers who sprinkled their grandchildren’s beds with Holy Water to make sure they remained Catholic. And we learn to listen tolerantly and to excuse ourselves from conversations pressing the wonderful, life-changing effects of a devotion or an apparition. We know that in the Catholic Castle there are many rooms.

Sometimes, however, such discoveries can be dangerous. We have seen people, including Christians, who have been so inspired by the life they have found in their own faith that they take away the lives of people with other religious beliefs. Less spectacularly but also unfortunately, we know Catholics who regard other Catholics who have not the same views or devotional practice as themselves as not real Catholics. And we, too, might see those intolerant people as not real Catholics and avoid them. In this way the faith that was meant to unite us in joy in fact divides us in meanness.

In his prayer intention for January 2024 Pope Francis draws our intention to the different ways in which we experience our faith. He prays that we might see our differences as a blessing and not something to regret. He describes the different paths along which our faith takes us as charisms. This Greek word refers to our activity within the Church both as a gift and a calling within the whole community. The charisms refer to the responsibilities we have within the Church as ministers, readers, and other activities within the church, and also as preachers and spreaders of the Gospel. Some of these gifts are public, others are hidden, such as being a good listener. But for all of us, to speak of our faith and to commend it to others by our lives and our words is a gift and a calling. Pope Francis calls us to be welcome the diversity of our gifts and callings. We should not see our differences as a sign of sin but as something to be celebrated. Nor should we see our simple contributions to the life of the church as less important than those with other gifts. Together they form the Body of Christ.

Pope Francis also speaks of the differences between the rites of celebrating the Eucharist and other Sacraments as a blessing to be celebrated. He has in mind the ancient rites that have descended from worship in Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople, and through them to other parts of the world. They are not rivals but complementary. In our own time we have seen more adaptation to the culture of different nations. In nations where dance is a traditional and powerful way for people to express themselves in prayer to God, they form part of the prayer life of the church. When it comes to shoes and to our life as Catholics one size does not fit all.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ is an editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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