One of the great things about living in Astoria is its diversity. People may give lip service to the benefits of diversity, but here in Astoria we live it day by day. In other parts of the city, we can hear foreign languages, but here they are everywhere. I use the plural because it is not just Spanish or Greek, but Arabic, Albanian, Croatian, Hungarian, Russian, Galician, Maltese, Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian, and many other languages that are unknown to me and therefore unclassifiable. But they are everywhere!
Each block is a microcosm of the United Nations.
This situation that we find ourselves in is a great gift since it lifts us out of our ‘little world’ and makes us see the wider reality in which we actually exist. This wider world is mirrored in the relatively new world of the internet. We can be in contact with people all over the world in an instant. This global perspective is something very new and places on our shoulders a new responsibility for the rest of humanity.
A number of years ago, we sponsored a series of lectures on the different religious traditions of the world. This was our “Connections’ series. The first of these drew the largest number of participants. It was called “Christianity and Islam”. After these five groups of lectures, we turned our attention to Catholicism and its various spiritual pathways. We are currently looking at the Pathway of St. Francis.
But our previous group of teachings was a way, in itself, of appreciating our Catholic heritage. One thinker put it this way: you don’t know your own faith until you compare and contrast it with the faith of others. This is why openness is so important to appreciating one’s own heritage. We must acknowledge that God is at work in all these cultures and spiritual ways and not try to limit God.
This does not mean, however, that all faiths are equally relevant and that it does not matter that we are Catholic Christians. The Second Vatican Council clearly states that there are elements of the truth in all faiths and that as such they are all to be respected in so far as they speak that truth. But we believe that the fullness of the truth resides in Catholicism. In my experience, I have often admired practices and expressions found in other faiths. But I have also found that particular reality in my own Catholic faith. To take an example: the whole area of ‘mindfulness’ that comes from Eastern Religions is to be found in our faith as the ‘sacrament of the present moment’. There are many other spiritual realities that are highlighted and given wonderful expression in other faiths, but that I have found them also in our Catholic Faith. But my point in urging the study of the other faiths is that the appreciation enhances and reinforces my own commitment to Catholicism.
Whenever we honestly appreciate something in this wonderful world, whether it be of goodness, truth or beauty, it should help us in our Catholic Faith and not be a hindrance. Fear and suspicion need not, therefore, hold sway.
This is a wellspring of possibilities inherent in a diverse environment. When fear of the other is replaced by a mutual respect and a willingness to learn from the other, it makes possible much cross fertilization, bringing new realities to bear. If God is indeed a mystery, and if all attempts to explain God are doomed to failure, then the quest for truth and the sharing of this quest with humility becomes a great advantage.
That is not to say that there are no non-negotiables in the sharing, and that each religious tradition may still feel the completeness of its perspective, but it does so striving to learn from the other and not just to teach the other the error of its ways.
Fear often leads to disastrous consequences. Trust in God is essential for spiritual growth, for it is He who leads me to green pastures (as the Psalmist says).
There is a Jesuit adage that I find very compelling and comforting in this world of diversity: find Christ in everything! It’s my hope that we as individuals and as a community may feel so secure in our faith that everything, except sin, will lead us to Christ!