Our Lord delivered a sturdy challenge when he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Surely he was skeptical (albeit, all knowing) about how His followers would respond.
Recently reflecting on a trend of car decals, I’ve questioned how exactly a “Coexist” sticker on the back of a Christian’s car reflects a response to that call? If a mute bumper sticker that promotes everyone just getting along is the answer, I think we’ve failed the mission.
As a Coexister might justify, the message promotes peace across faiths from which enormous conflict can – and often has – been born. The idea of peaceful coexistence isn’t foreign to Christianity. Our Holy Father’s recent visit to Lebanon to appeal for peace is a demonstrative testament to the Church’s struggle to promote the dignity of life over religious persecution.
However, a problem I experience today is Catholics not knowing how to toe the line between tolerance of others and practicing their proclaimed faith. This blurred distinction has really blinded our perspective on the mission of the Church and how we are called to witness to Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Wiccans, Pagans, Protestants & people of any faith, gender, sexual orientation or generic worldview that infamous bumper sticker designers have cleverly crafted into a 2×10 inch rectangle.
A tragically poignant example of this lost distinction is Arlington, VA Bishop Paul Loverde’s recent requirement of all diocesan teachers to sign a profession of faith and the hugely negative response he got in return. A catechism teacher from one of his parishes, who simply did not want to promise to teach the Truth of the faith, wrote to the Bishop saying, “This is not in the spirit of what people go to a Catholic Church for, which is community and a loving, welcoming environment.”
The problem is that this isn’t why we go to church on Sunday, which is to fulfill our obligation to be present in the sacrifice of Jesus in the Eucharist for our Heavenly Father. This poor woman is sadly mistaken to believe a warm welcome is more important than the salvation of souls.
Hospitality is so significant and evangelization can’t happen without it, but it seems we’ve placed it on a pedestal far above the Truth of Christianity – so far above that we mistake our Sunday obligation to worship Christ and instead we worship fellowship.
It seems reasonable enough that an agnostic, atheist or Unitarian might adopt such a blanket ideology as ‘Coexistence’ to struggle for harmony, but how much greater a means do we as Christians have to spread peace on earth? Jesus Christ came to die for us and as Christians we are so incredibly blessed to know His love.
If we could sincerely appreciate the gift of faith God has given us and if we truly understood the magnificence of His perfect Truth, why would we ever discourage anyone from it with a dull message to maintain contentedness without Him? We must remember and rejoice that only the Holy Spirit can bring true peace.
We must be generous in showing God’s love and mercy toward people of all faiths – and yes, we should struggle for peaceful coexistence – but we mustn’t stop there. We are called to spread the Truth of the Gospel & point to Christ as the One True God.