Comprehensive and universal

Reflection on the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Times

By Joe Mertz, jr.

The readings for this Sunday:

Jeremiah 20:10-13
Romans 5:12-15
Matthew 10:26-33

I wrote most of this reflection from Pohnpei, the capital island of the Federated States of Micronesia. If you are looking on the map, this collection of islands are very roughly speaking 2/3 of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines.

It is raining outside. Pouring, actually. It poured for 3 days when I was in Kosrae (another Micronesian island). Apparently Pohnpei is known for its rain, and locals make it sound like a cloud just sits above it and dumps and dumps, and then it moves aside and a new one comes to replace it. (I can hear the cynical Pittsburgher saying: “Just like here.”)

I’m here helping four Carnegie Mellon students get established. They will spend their summer here, helping staff in the Micronesian state hospitals learn to maintain and use computer labs being supplied by the World Health Organization. It is sort of like a short-term computer Peace Corps assignment.

Along my way here, I have met a lot of interesting people, some of whom I’ve had the chance to talk with about their faith. It’s been a kind of mini Merton-goes-East tour for me, and I’ve had long discussions with a Baha’i, and a Buddhist member of Soka Gakkai International (SGI).

While stopping-over in Honolulu, my students and I were invited to an “Introduction to Buddhism” hosted by members of Soka Gakkai International (SGI). There was a hula-dance welcome, chanting, some music performance, and a discussion of the SGI practices of Buddhism. Two members gave witness to how their faith impacted their lives in very hard times. The understanding that I took away was that SGI members were progressive Buddhists that have included social justice into their practice. My very naïve view is that Buddhism traditionally is more individual-focused. SGI puts much more emphasis on the internal practice leading to external action. It sounded familiar to me and my spirituality.

In Kosrae and Pohnpei, my host was Baha’i, and I had several occasions, while watching the ever-present rain, to have long discussions about his faith.

I found one part of the discussion particularly interesting. He pointed out that faiths can be like an oil lamp. Once the oil runs dry, the flame goes out, but the lamp remains. The institution remains, but the Spirit has moved on.

This Sunday’s Gospel reads:

Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.

Baha’is believe in progressive revelation, the faith needs to be continually updated with new revelations that fit the time.

Religion is the outer expression of the divine reality. Therefore it must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive. If it be without motion and non-progressive it is without the divine life; it is dead. The divine institutes are continuously active and evolutionary; therefore the revelation of them must be progressive and continuous.
From the Bahá'í World Faith

My host described the other major beliefs of Baha’i and my impression is that they are very similar to my beliefs regarding compassion, gender equality, and economic justice.

Today’s Gospel continues:

Everyone who acknowledges me before others

I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.

But whoever denies me before others,

I will deny before my heavenly Father."

What does it mean to acknowledge Jesus? Is just claiming we do enough? What does it mean to deny him?

It strikes me that some in our church are leading a charge to sharpen divisions, and to move from unity to exclusivity.

We can understand “Catholic” as a club, and use it to divide those who pledge allegiance from those who do not.

Or we can understand the Catholic-ness of our faith as comprehensive, and universal. And then we can try to figure out how Baha’i and Buddhism give us insights into that universe.

~ ~ ~

What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;

what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.

I have 2 kids, and my dearest hope for them is that they grow to have a deep and personal relationship with a God who is Love, within a supportive community of believers. That community is Catholic, and I refuse to abdicate the name to any who would try to redefine it to be anything but universal.

As a dad, it is my responsibility to proclaim this from the housetops (or web sites).

Happy Father’s Day!

For further reading:

The International Web Site of the Baha’i Faith

Soka Gakkai International