Whoever is not against us is for us.
This sentence has given us, as Christian and Catholics, one of our most fundamental principles. St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of Pope Francis’ religious order, expressed it at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises. The first Jesuit wrote:
Let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to approve what his neighbor says than to condemn it. If he cannot approve it, let him inquire of his neighbor how he means it.
In other words, a good Christian always gives his neighbor the benefit of the doubt. We presume the neighbor a friend.
Now, actually exercising this kind of trust in others can prove a lot more difficult than simply talking about doing it. Ever since we human beings first built the Tower of Babel—actually, ever since Cain killed Abel—we have contended with antagonisms among us, language barriers and cultural misunderstandings.
Sometimes the idea of a unified human race, living at peace, giving each other the benefit of the doubt—often that seems like nothing more than a pipe dream for hippies. Our tvs hum with news of wars and rumors of wars. Pope comes to visit the US, conservative politicians call him a Marxist, and his environmentalist allies tell him to ordain women as priests. Seems like something less than unity, fraternity, and mutual trust, something less than giving the brother the benefit of the doubt.
But, you know, there actually are a lot of people in this world who prefer to get along, rather than fight. The blessed unity of the human race does not shimmer solely in a hippy fantasy. There’s a bona fide human institution, one that has been in business for many centuries now—an institution which really does strive tirelessly to bring about solidarity among all men. What’s this institution? The one led by our visitor from Rome this week.
Washington, D.C., hardly has days of genuine good cheer and open friendliness on the streets. Days when Metrobus riders applaud their drivers, or people waiting for hours to get through security checkpoints use the time to make friends. But this past Wednesday was such a day.
The secret was not just Pope Francis’ beautiful personality, though that hardly hurt. If I might, I would like to focus on one way in which Christ actually accomplishes true communion among disparate human individuals, by gathering them into His Church. Jesus unites us by giving us the answer to the most fundamental question of life.
What is this question? There are different ways to put it, but they all come down to the same thing. Can I be right with God? Can I find the right path? Am I headed towards true happiness and fulfillment–toward heaven? Can I face death without paralyzing fear? Am I who I am meant to be?
The whole human race is in search of the answer. The desire for a good, solid answer to our common religious questions is a tie that binds the whole human race as one family. And, if we find a good answer, and can live in the confidence of God’s friendship, then we also tend towards friendship with our neighbors.
I think the Holy Father’s visit has reminded us of this fact:
In the face of humanity’s fundamental religious questions, a lot of other things don’t matter. What clubs I belong to don’t matter. The neighborhood I live in doesn’t matter. Whether I am white, black, Latino, Filipino, Caribbean, Chinese, Indian, or Puerto-Korican doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what my favorite football team is. God is merciful: Even Dallas Cowboys fans can live in the state of grace.
What matters is: Am I okay with the Lord? Can I hope for God’s goodness? Am I on the right track? And, if I am with Jesus, the answer is Yes, Yes, Yes. What language do I speak? What kind of education have I had? How much money do I make? What’s my favorite food? Interesting questions, to be sure. But nowhere near as important as: Do I have communion with God? When Jesus is the answer to that all-important question, there’s no sense getting hung-up too much on the other questions.
My point is: what Jesus unites, nothing can divide. What God has united, let no man put asunder. Whoever is not against us is for us. Whoever is with Jesus is with us. If we are with Jesus, we are really, truly together. And, just to make one point and encourage everyone to participate in the 40 Days for Life campaign: if we are with Jesus, we are consistently pro-life. If we are with Jesus, we stand up for everyone’s right to life, from conception to natural death.
In Washington on Wednesday, we hundreds of priests and bishops prayed alongside tens of thousands of people. We were together in a way which no other circumstances can bring about: we were united in prayer to God, united with the Vicar of Christ on earth, imploring love and mercy from on high through the only-begotten Son of the Almighty Father.
Unity. Trust. Peace.
The Catholic Church is not perfect and does not pretend to be. But She is the universal church. Our faith and way of life are open to all. We have no secret codes, no hidden teachings, no admissions exams, no dues, no prerequisites. The Catholic faith is right there for everyone to reach out for and live by. And when we let Jesus bring us together, then we can live the dream of true mutual trust.