Friday, June 29, 2018

The Same Gospel Message in Different Words

Human beings are tribal in our nature. Our brains are wired to pick up patterns which helps make new things automatic and intuitive. We gravitate toward what is similar out of a natural need of acceptance and self-preservation. Along with this, we tend to fear that which is strange to us. It takes intention and effort to understand and accept something different. Stories provide evidence of humans wrestling with this concept from Aesop's Fables to Dr. Seuss's Sneeches. In the twenty-first century, globalization has provided a new arena for an age-old battle. We hear about conflict in the blink of an eye in cultures we do not understand, and we are able to comment on them publicly and without filter. People are brought into conflict without a face; our homes become foxholes and keyboards become guns. We do not face our supposed enemy. We speak past one another without real dialogue or any change of understanding.
I recently had an experience which showed just how difficult it is to use familiar concepts and language to express a point to someone different than me. I just discovered a podcast called 'Harry Potter and the Sacred Text' where the hosts explore the Harry Potter books as though it were a holy book like the Gospels, Hebrew Scriptures, or Quran. Each episode discusses a concept associated with a chapter from the series. They read deeply and even do spiritual practices like Lectio Divina or the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises to confront themes like love, being a stranger, or vulnerability. They chose Harry Potter because it is beloved by and familiar to a whole generation. It becomes a common denominator for a diverse population who might otherwise find it difficult to have meaningful conversations.
One of the hosts is an atheist humanist, which is pretty far away in world view from this Catholic liturgical musician. In the episode on 'hope' she spoke about how hope is a last resort in the tough situations life throws at you. I immediately thought, are you crazy? Hope is a theological virtue! We need it from the start! She also thought that a kind of disordered love existed in Professor Quirrell toward Lord Voldemort. My response? There is no love there, only fear. If God is love, any feeling directed toward the representation of complete evil cannot be love. It got me thinking; how incredible that the two of us can use the same word in two completely different ways. We both have similar ideas towards these stories but use language differently to express our ideas. What else are we defining differently which makes our globalized lives even more difficult?

This challenge is not unlike the challenges of Sts. Peter and Paul in the first century. Both had a fire burning within them from their unique encounters with Jesus Christ, one as a Jew living in Palestine and the other as a citizen of Rome. St. Peter set forth to proclaim the Gospel as a persecuted minority within a minority in the Roman Empire. St. Paul, once among the persecutors, took up the Gospel message and preached across the Empire in unfamiliar places. They needed to look beyond their own culture, language, and creed to share the truth of the Gospel message and speak it directly to particular places and needs. The individual theme of each New Testament epistle attests to this point. Both lost their lives for this mission.
In our twenty-first century mission of faith, let us call upon the intercession of Peter and Paul to guide the steps of our leadership and to speak boldly, truthfully, and without fear in our words. May we, above all, live our lives with the love of Christ so that no woman or man may ever live without the deep knowledge that they are desired, chosen, and loved by God, merited only by the fact that they are there to be desired, chosen, and loved.
Collect for the Vigil of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

Grant, we pray, O Lord our God,
that we may be sustained
by the intercession of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul,
that, as through them you gave your Church
the foundations of her heavenly office,
so through them you may help her to eternal salvation.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


Kellen O’Grady is Director of Liturgy & Music at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Hastings, Minnesota. He holds a Masters of Arts degree in Catholic Studies and chairs the Association of Liturgical Ministers for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He has a reputation for enjoying the finer things in life from hipster cocktails to dance and yoga.

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