The 21st verse of the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John has a beautiful line in it: “Ut unum sint.” It translates to, “That they may be one.” It is a prayer of Jesus for humankind. He says to the Father, “Just as we are one, I pray that they–everyone on earth–may also be one.” It is Jesus’ hope and prayer for us that we be one. Ut unum sint.
Now God gives us a model of this in his very nature, his triune nature. You have three EQUAL persons, and there is a closeness between them, and they’re constantly loving one another. It’s Jesus’ prayer for mankind that we be the same–that we be equal, close, and constantly loving.
We see this in our scriptures today. Our first reading from Deuteronomy says that we are “a people.” Not people, but a people. A collective group, one unit. The second reading says we’re all sons and daughters of God, all of us humans. And if I am a son of God and you’re a daughter of God, by George that makes us brother and sister. And all of us are God’s–which means we’re all family. We all belong to each other. The Gospel recounts how Jesus sent his apostles to every nation. Every nation counts to God. No one is more important than another.
God wants that we be one, just as the Triune God is one. I want to consider three things that stand in the way of our achieving this desire of God that we be one, three things that make us not one.
- The first is racism. I would hazard to say that most people believe–even if they’d never say it–that some lives matter more than other lives. To believe oneself to be superior than another because of race or sex or religion or job or money or legal status or the type of house they live in–it is arrogance, and it is wrong. We’re all more or less the same, we are “a people”, brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re not that different at all.Now this became clear to me years ago when I learned an important science lesson in 2007. Did you know that we humans have a genome, which our complete set of DNA. DNA molecules are made of two twisting, paired strands. Each strand is made of four chemical units, called nucleotide bases. We humans have over 3 billion of these base pairs. Did you know, that 99.9% of our genome–one person to the next–is the same? Now every difference you can see in each person is thanks to that less than one-tenth of one percent of our genetic makeup. So many wars, so much violence….all because of less than one tenth of one percent of genetic makeup. We are all essentially the same.
If you think and hope that only suburban white people will be in heaven, you probably won’t be admitted yourself. We think of racism and we think, that was long ago. But I think it’s still alive, even here in Shelby Co. It is unthinkable to me the way some people talk about other human beings and treat–or ignore–other human beings. We are all equal in the eyes of God. Lots of saints have died to preserve the the teaching that not one of the persons in the trinity is any more important, or any less divine, than the others. The Father is no greater than the Son, and the Son no greater than the Holy Spirit. They are equal. So are we.
We are to imagine a circle of compassion and no one standing outside of it. We are to love, regardless of anything. If we do that, we will be an answer to Jesus’ prayer that all might be one.
- The second thing that gets in the way of Jesus’ prayer — ut unum sint — gettting answered is the “hero complex.” This is what I mean. I remember when I went to Guatemala and worked in the orphanages, or when I went to Haiti a year ago or so and served there. I have to admit that, as I went to help in the orphanages and hospitals and schools, I remember rather arrogantly thinking about how great I was to go help “those people.” In my wretched heart, my thinking was, “How wonderful I am to come down to this level of humanity.” That was a horrible way to think about what I was doing! It preserved an us/them way of seeing things, when it is really just us. Compassion is measured not by “what we’re doing for the poor,” but instead by our ability to see ourselves in kinship with our fellow man. What I quickly found in these cases was that “those people” had names, they had stories, they had hearts. In short, I discovered my kinship with them. In some cases, I felt like family by the time I had to leave.A lot of people think they are being compassionate when they join St Vincent de Paul Society or go on a mission trip or build a Habitat for Humanity house. Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad we’re doing these things, and we must be doing these things. But if I’m only doing it so that I can feel good about myself for helping the “lesser” or “less than” people, and not because of my kinship with everyone in this bloody world, then I better double check my motives….and ask Jesus to make sure that it is love for my fellow man, and ultimately for the Good Lord, that is inspiring what I’m doing.
Fr. Boyle says: ““The true measure of our compassion lies not in our service to the poor, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with our fellow man.” Beautiful.
- The third thing is simply keeping an unspoken distance with those we don’t like. I’m talking about with groups of people. It’s someone saying, “I won’t be nasty to ‘those pepole’ but I’ll just ignore them; I’ll live my life and they can live theirs.” But now! We must be one happy, holy family. That distance is not there in the Trinity! The other day I was so happy: we had a May crowning and a Cinco de Mayo party and a big dinner….. We had everyone there—folks from the 5pm Mass, the 10:30 Mass, the 1pm mass, school, faith formation, etc. I thought, this is what we need! We are one.Jesus is in everyone. You keep a distance from this or that person, you keep Jesus at bay. Now here’s the trick that all the saints came to understand: Look for Christ in everyone and reverence Christ in everyone. Do that, and the world will be a much more human place. A much more divine place.
It just so happens that God’s dream for us — ut unum sint — is also our deepest desire as well.