There’s so much that divides us today. It’s black against white, gay against straight, conservative against liberal…everyone, it seems, is against someone else. If we had to come up with a name for our society, I think we could call it the “anti” culture—not because there is no cultural norm, but because the main characteristic of it is that we’re all against something. We get so caught up in what we’re opposing that sometimes we forget what we’re for, what we love, what is good.
Even groups that once were the most united are now at odds, and the most disheartening divisions must be the ones we’ve seen come to a head within the Church over the past few years. Disagreements that had been brewing for decades have erupted, even at the highest levels of authority, and many Catholics feel forced to choose sides. Of course, we all feel very strongly, because the venue of this battle is our Church—our very Mother.
I often wonder what Christ thinks about all of this, especially the animosity that’s become attached to our arguments. We have good reason to stand—now is certainly not the time to fail in strength—but, just as much as we fight against sin, against the belittling of objective Truth, against haughtiness, and against secularization, we have to stand for the things that draw us together as Catholics.
But where does that start? In a world in which even members of the One True Church are at odds, what’s the unified place where we can meet and understand each other?
A central point unites every single Roman Catholic on the face of the planet, no matter their definition of mercy; their stance on capitalism, wealth, human dominion, and the environment; or their ideas about how marriage and rabbits might be related. This truth that unites us all is the source and summit of our faith: the Holy Eucharist.
In the Pacific Ocean, about 1300 miles south of Honolulu, there’s a little coral atoll called Christmas Island, or Kiritimati. This island has the farthest-forward time zone in the world.
Every Sunday morning, Kiritimati time, families file into Christmas Island Catholic Church for Mass.
They gather there to glorify and honor one God—the One who made Heaven and Earth—and to be in the physical presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
No matter who they are—black, white, or brown; conservative or liberal; “when can we get a Latin Mass here?” or wishing the Church would just “get with the times” already—they all step into the same communion line, and they all receive the same Christ. His love fills their hearts, ministers to their brokenness, and gives them the grace to go out into the world and share His mercy. When they leave that church, they take Him out to the rest of Christmas Island together.
Two hours later, as the sun rises in New Zealand, parents wake up, gather their children, and shepherd them into the car. They’ll drive into Auckland, dip their fingers into the holy water font as they enter the doors of the Catholic church there, and find a place for their little ones in a familiar pew. Soon, they’ll receive Christ, too.
And the cycle repeats, from east to west, all across the globe. The wave of families flocking into Roman Catholic churches that started in Kiritimati flows over the entire world, until the last family leaves a church somewhere in Hawaii a full twenty-four hours later. In city after city, nation after nation, millions of Roman Catholics of every race pour into churches to adore the One True God and receive Him in the Eucharist. They are the zealous and the lukewarm, the rich and the poor, the humble and the proud.
We may disagree on footnotes in apostolic exhortations and on whether families and bunnies have anything in common…but what draws us together is far, far stronger. It’s nothing less than Christ Himself.
The night before Jesus died, just before going out to the Mount of Olives, He prayed to the Father for His disciples—the ones in the room eavesdropping on his prayer, and the ones we are, today. His pleading for all of us in John 17 was beautiful:
I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.
And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.”
Christ Himself prayed for us! And in those last moments before He was given up, He used some of His final words to ask the Father to help us to be united.
That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree. But we have to keep in mind that those on the opposite side of the fence from us carry Christ in their hearts, too, when they leave their churches after Mass. His presence ministers to each of us with the same love, the same mercy, the same power and healing grace, and He draws our hearts together. He’s the One who unites us all.