REFLECTION: Sowing Seeds of Unity 

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time | January 22, 2017

Today’s guest post is from Jessica Dennis, author and curator of Leaven in the World. She currently works part-time from home doing marketing and graphic design, has been married for 7 years to the most patient man in the world and is the proud mama of 2 insanity-inducing yet amazing girls.

To see the archive of all the homilies and reflections for each liturgical year since 2014, just click here: Salesian Sermons

PROTIP: You can take a look at the readings here. This reflection focuses on the second reading.

I have a hard time with conflict, whether it’s an argument with my husband or reading comments on articles posted on Facebook (I know, never a good idea). When a conversation is difficult, my reflex is to walk away and hide.

Which is ironic, because I’ve found that God has consistently put me in a whole array of circumstances and situations where conflict is most likely to happen — around people who think differently from me or were raised in a completely different way.

As a first-generation born Filipino-American, I’ve always navigated two cultures — the Filipino culture I inherited from my parents, who immigrated here to the States in the late 1970s, and the American culture that I have been immersed in almost my entire life.

As a Catholic laywoman who first fell in love with Christ and her faith through the Catholic charismatic renewal, I received my theological training from two different Catholic educational institutions, each on different parts of the theological spectrum (undergrad at Franciscan University of Steubenville and Masters from Washington Theological Union).

As a Catholic woman of color married to a white Protestant man, each of us raised in devout Christian families, I’ve grown close to and worshipped alongside Christians of many denominations, both Catholic and non-Catholic.

In each instance, in varying degrees, and regardless of what group I was with at the time, there was a tendency to paint the other in broad strokes, to draw lines that indicated one group was better than the other, that one side was wrong and the other side was right, that the other side was being ridiculous and that surely, they would come around and see it our way if they would only see reason.

This experience of “us” versus “them” clearly isn’t a new one. If anything, it has been with us since the dawn of time — even the early church wasn’t immune to this kind of thinking. Just take a look at the second reading from this week (1 Cor 1:10-17).

Even in the early church, Paul admonishes the Corinthians for rivalries and division. He prays they are “united in the same mind and same purpose” (vs. 10) and speaks the same message of unity to the Philippians: “…complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing” (Philippians 2:2). In his letter to the Romans, Paul prays that they “think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord [they] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5).

What I find eye-opening (yet not often discussed) is how Paul would have understood the Greco-Roman ideal of “thinking in harmony”:

Not rigid uniformity of thought and expression but thoughtful consideration of other people’s views”’(NAB commentary).

Paul’s understanding of unity born out of “thinking in harmony” seems to be much more nuanced than the mere appearance of unity (i.e., rigid uniformity), where everyone simply thinks and acts the same. Rather, he speaks of unity that is rooted in thoughtful dialogue and mutual understanding. It’s a unity that comes about when all those involved are “thoughtfully considered.”

When was the last time you had a genuine dialogue with someone whose views were completely different from yours? A conversation where you weren’t out to change the other person’s mind, no talking points, no hidden agendas, simply a time to listen and maybe even open to the possibility of having your mind changed.

I’ve found the only time I’ve ever been able to have conversations like these — true dialogue — was with friends, people I cared about. Because it’s hard to paint an entire group in broad strokes when one of them is your friend. Or your husband. Someone you love.

And as difficult as these conversations are (especially for someone like me who is incredibly uncomfortable with conflict), they are what is necessary in times of division. Unity isn’t achieved because the “losing side” sits down and conforms or assimilates to the “winning side,” no questions asked. It happens when we see what we hold in common with those with whom we disagree, when we see them as created in the image of God, as sisters and brothers in Christ and build bridges. Unity happens when we allow the Spirit to enter those conversations and transform all parties involved to be more like Christ.

Because at the end of the day, there is no “us” and “them.” There is only “us.”

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