Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Strangers united in faith

Sunday, May 14, 2017

There is a great irony at work in our liturgical life and public prayer. We come to one place, calling ourselves a community that claims to be united in bonds that even death itself cannot break, for we are the body of the Risen Lord. Yet many of us do not know one another or have never met. I made this point during the confirmation ceremony for adults at Holy Name Cathedral May 9. The readings (Jn 10:22-30) recounted Jesus’ encounter with unbelievers and told of the panic in the early church after the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 11:19-26). They offered insights to help us understand what it means for us strangers to say we are one body of Christ. What follows is my homily.

The Gospel sets the stage. It recounts the confrontation Jesus had with those who demand that he give an account of himself, particularly after he heals the man born blind. Even though they have seen what he has done, their ideas about what is true, what is possible with God, ironically leaves them blind in contrast to the man who has been given his sight by Jesus.

In all of this Jesus makes it clear that faith is about more than the beliefs and ideas we hold. In fact, he turns it around: faith is about what holds us, what defines and is about the story that gives meaning to our life.

A great spiritual writer once noted that for any of us to believe, it is not so much a matter of making God an important factor in my life, among all the other things that preoccupy my attention — my work, my family, my aspirations — but rather it is about accepting that I am a factor in God’s life, that I am part of the story of God’s redeeming work.

The reading from Acts recalls how the earliest Christians became a part of God’s story of redemption. It recounts that moment when the Gospel was spread throughout the world. How did that happen? What was the occasion? It was a moment of crisis and suffering.

The disciples were traumatized by the martyrdom of Stephen and were fleeing for their lives. Yet, God turns this story of a community scattering to safety into a story of scattering the seed of faith. It was precisely at a moment of crisis, when the future of Christ’s flock seemed to be at risk of being annihilated that God took their panic-filled scattering to every part of the globe and turned it into a sowing of the seed of faith to all the nations.

That scattering in a moment of persecution resulted in the spread of the Gospel to the point that today, with all the diversity that makes up the human family, we are the beneficiaries. That is our story and it reminds us who we are.

We come here today as a people who value sharing the sufferings of others because we know that, when we do so, God is doing something more than we imagined. It is a story that reminds us also that we are a people who are proud to embrace the diversity that is part of humanity and the church, simply because we know that it is the result of God’s redeeming work, when he turned a moment of crisis into an opportunity to cast the seed of faith widely. That is our story, the story that we hold and which holds us together, that defines who we are, and we trust in it.

Proclaiming our story is particularly needed in our times, for the world offers another narrative, warning us not to be trapped into caring for the sick, the poor, the suffering of the world, those who in our day are fleeing persecution, war, famine and poverty, lest they make demands on us and limit our own personal freedom.

There is also the message often heard today to fear people who are strangers, different from ourselves, outsiders and aliens, lest they diminish or lower the standards of our identity or national and cultural purity.

But God’s story calls this narrow reading of human existence into question and prompts us to pay attention to our own experience of how the sufferings of others and the diversity in the human family enrich us all. We have all seen how a child born with disabilities inspires virtues of patience, empathy and compassion for others in a family, which otherwise would have not been possible. We, too, know the countless contributions that people of every land and nation have made to our nation and our church, enhancing our human experience precisely because they are different.

Yes, most of us who come here do not know each other, but we know each other’s story, because we have mutually made a commitment to be a factor in God’s life and take up the common task of sharing in his redeeming work by sharing the suffering of others and scattering widely the seed of faith in a way that welcomes diversity in our church. That is the story we hold and which holds us and why we can say with confidence at the conclusion of the baptismal promises: "This is the faith of the church. We are proud to profess it in Christ our Lord."


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