February 14, 2020


We are called to both unity and diversity

“Only the Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity while at the same time building unity. When we are the ones who try to create diversity and close ourselves up in what makes us different and unique, we bring division. On the other hand, when we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans, we end up creating uniformity, standardization” (Pope Francis, homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost, 2019).

When Archbishop Charles C. Thompson was installed as the seventh archbishop of Indianapolis on July 28, 2017, he called our attention to “the Catholic both/and.”

“Far too often today, we are confronted with an either/or mentality, a growing polarization in our society and in the Church that promotes division and radical individualism in place of unity and the common good,” Archbishop Thompson said. “This either/or mentality breeds fear, distrust, hatred, indifference, prejudice, selfishness, despair, violence and radical ideologies.

“The Catholic both/and is a simple concept, but it can be difficult to apply to tense situations. Still, the Lord calls us to try,” the archbishop said. “Let’s pray for the grace to promote unity rather than division in all that we say and do as missionary disciples. Let’s embrace the Catholic both/and as the vantage point for seeing the world as our Creator intended it to be.”

We have seen this divisive mentality clearly expressed in the recent impeachment controversy as well as in the attempt to portray Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as publicly opposing Pope Francis on the issue of priestly celibacy. The polarization that Archbishop Thompson identified two and a half years ago is very much with us today—as it has been since the earliest days of human history.

Both unity and diversity are fundamental to our Catholic understanding of God and creation. Our belief in the Trinity—that God is both one and three—establishes that we refuse to cling to a rigid either/or position on who God is. The same applies to our understanding of human nature. We believe that God created us in his image and that we are both spiritual and material beings. The communities we form reflect a great diversity of languages, cultures and traditions, but in the end we are one human family called to unity and solidarity with one another in spite of our differences.

From the very beginning of his service to the Church in central and southern Indiana, Archbishop Thompson has been asking, “How can we engage one another as well as our Church and our society with this Catholic both/and approach?” As Pope Francis has emphasized, the archbishop says, “We must stand in the breach of the effects of polarization, division and radical individualism as missionary disciples, cultivating a culture of dialogue, encounter, accompaniment, mutual respect, reconciliation, mercy and hope. As eucharistic-centered people, we must first be motivated by gratitude and appreciation for divine grace in our midst while seeking to engage rather than react to or recoil from the world of cultures, economics, politics, science and religions.”

Unity in diversity is the vision that the bishops of the United States proclaimed in “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us,” which was published in 2000. Looking back on the history of Catholicism in our country, the bishops called attention to the waves of immigration that shaped the character of our nation and of our local Churches. The bishops also observed that the immigrant experience, which is deeply rooted in our country’s religious, social and political history, is changing. Whereas previous immigrants came to the United States predominately from Europe or as slaves from Africa, the new immigrants often come from Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific islands, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

Both unity and diversity are fundamental to our identity as persons and communities. Every member of the human family regardless of his or her place of origin, ethnic or cultural heritage, economic or social position or legal status has the right and responsibility to express her or his uniqueness as both an independent person and a member of God’s family. That means we can disagree with each other—respectfully, the way family members and fellow citizens should do—without resorting to violent speech or character assassinations.

With Jesus, who was both God and man, let’s celebrate both our unity and our diversity. And let’s pray for an end to the unholy divisions that threaten both our Church and our society.

—Daniel Conway

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