That They All May Be One
In last week’s blog, I shared Robert Fulghum’s hide-n-seek story and attempted to give one possible explanation for the hiddenness of God. Fulghum, though, does not end with hide-n-seek. He writes,
“Better than hide-and-seek, I like the game called Sardines. In Sardines the person who is It goes and hides, and everybody goes looking for him. When you find him, you get in with him and hide there with him. Pretty soon everybody is hiding together, all stacked in a small space like puppies in a pile. And pretty soon somebody giggles and somebody laughs and everybody gets found… Medieval theologians even described God in hide-and-seek terms, calling him Deus Absconditus [the Hidden God]. But me, I think old God is a Sardine player. And will be found in the same way everybody gets found in Sardines—by the sound of laughter of those heaped together at the end.”¹
This is ultimately God’s will for us as Christians: “that they all may be one” (John 17:21). It is also God’s will for all of creation. The early Christians rejoiced in Christ saying, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). He came to “reconcile all things” (Col. 1:20). Still, we are not in the fullness of the Kingdom yet, and until then, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now.” We long for unity, don’t we? We long for harmony and peace. We long to be like those puppies in a pile, all filled with joy and laughter. We long for the Kingdom.
In this 500th year after the Reformation, the scandal of Christian disunity is as apparent as ever, though we have made great strides in overcoming violence and division with understanding. Still, we are not fulfilling Jesus’ desire for His Church. If the followers of Christ cannot get along, how can we possibly be a sign of unity in the world? If we fight amongst ourselves, how can we possibly be peacemakers? We remain subject to the reprimand of St. Paul: “I urge you… in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you… that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:10-13).
It should not surprise us that there is division. Division is a first consequence of Original Sin. Adam, who was “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) with Eve, now blames her and stands divided from her (Gen. 3:12). We feel that tension and division everywhere, don’t we? In the Church, it sometimes resembles a verbal battlefield (and in some places and times, a real, bloody battleground). Have you read the comments posted to articles about Pope Francis, Cardinal Burke, Fr. James Martin, S.J., or other figures whom some Catholics currently find polarizing? They often lack any charity at all and instead of helping to overcome division they exacerbate the divide.
Our political life in the U.S. right now is also sharply divided. People lost friends and stopped talking to family over the last election. I had people unfriend me and unfollow me on Facebook, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you did too. In real life, apart from social media, the divisions are even more painful. To keep the peace, there are some people I simply refuse to talk politics with… and I love to talk politics!
What is a Christian to do? Jesus prayed for unity. Unity in diversity, after all, is one way of understanding a fundamental truth of our faith, that the one God is, in fact, a Trinity. Today’s readings assure us that God will get His way! “[M]y word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” We have every reason to be filled with hope. In the meantime, we feel division everywhere, even within our own bodies as we struggle for integrity: “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” If we are to be faithful to Christ, though, it is not enough to groan and to hope. The seed of the Gospel that Jesus spoke of in His parable might get choked by the thorns of polarization and self-righteousness. The seed that falls on good soil must be rooted in the life of grace, the life of the Trinity. Jesus’ prayer must become our own: “that they all may be one.”
Next week, I will give some practical suggestions for how we might move from prayer to action. In the meantime, feel free to share your own experiences in the comments. We can learn from one another and help each other to “hear the word and understand it.” Perhaps we can even draw others to the Kingdom of God by the sound of laughter and the unity of everyone heaped together like those puppies in a pile!
¹Fulghum, Robert. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things. (Willard Books: New York, 1989), p. 58.
Editorial credit: Olan / Shutterstock.com for the Adam and Eve image.