Not My, Not Our; Everybody’s Religion
Thoughts on the First Readings -Joe Frankenfield
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
When I was in grade school, there was a painting of St. Michael in our parish church. He had blond hair, lots of muscles, and looked something like my uncle Gene. There was also a statue of Mary that looked something like my aunt Virginia and my children’s prayer book had a picture of God that looked a lot like my next door neighbor, Mr. Fry, though with a fuller, whiter beard. Everything around me conveyed the assurance that heaven was full of my kind of folks. It wasn’t until high school when a priest brought me a holy card from Tokyo with a picture of a distinctly Japanese Mary wearing a mysterious smile that I later found on many representations of the Buddha that I realized that heaven was more cosmopolitan than I’d ever imagined.
It’s difficult to express how deeply that Japanese holy card impressed me. At fourteen years of age it made me think of my religion in a whole new way: it didn’t belong to me or to my relatives or the priests and sisters at St. Michael’s. It belonged to people whose lives I simply couldn’t imagine – people who viewed it very differently than I did.
It’s easy to nurture the illusion that we hold faith in our back pocket. We think of it as an alphabet of facts about God and morality. Instead, it’s a relationship with our Creator and with all creation. It’s an ongoing activity between people, God and life that never holds still, is never the same from person to person or century to century.
Any boundary that we place on God’s relationship with people, and thus people’s relationship with God, is certainly a mistake. That awareness intimately unites us with the whole of creation.
If we’re to actually serve the richness of our faith to the world and not just lay it on the table with a take or leave it attitude, acknowledging the universality of God’s love and the ubiquity of the Spirit’s action is crucial. Heaven will not look like our family reunions.