“What marks us? Most of the major traditions of the world have something- a hat, turban, mark, specific dress to announce their religious belief. The Jews wear a yarmulke, the Sikhs a white turban while the Hindu woman marks the center of her forehead with a colored dot or bindi and the Muslim woman appears in public in a hijab or perhaps a burqa.
“What marks Christians?”
Thursday, May 31st was the Feast of the Visitation, and I sat at the St. Gall Church daily Mass listening to Fr. Chris Kanowitz ask his rhetorical question of those of us in attendance. Because of terrific headlines like this one, I have written about his homilies elsewhere.
As I ponder his question, Fredrich Nietzsche's sarcastic anti-religious comments from my days as an atheist bubble to the surface of my memory:
“If they want me to believe in their God, why don’t they act like people who have been saved?”
“God is dead, he choked to death of theology.”
“Morality is the herd-instinct in the individual.”
And then there was Gandhi's “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
These are just a few of the thinkers I called on to defend my decision to walk away from God to family, friends and to myself. Only to come back, on my knees, decades later. And so I give my attention to these homilies from these men who did not walk away but became the bearers of His Body and Blood. One of the Apostles who could loose or bind. For those that provoke, like his, I write about them. More because the act of writing helps me affirm, to become more steadfast in my faith.
Since his question was a rhetorical one, the priest answered it. “We have no such marks as these Sikhs, Hindus, Jews or Muslims. We look just like everyone else. I think what distinguishes us from all other peoples are the fruits of the Holy Spirit.”
He laughed as he said, “You’ve heard me preach on the fruits ad nauseam...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control...
“JOY! THAT’s what marks us as Christians...!”
In the Gospel reading for the Feast of the Visitation, the Mother of Our Lord breaks out with that exultant song of praise to her Creator, The Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
In the Gospel of Luke reading for this day, joy resounds throughout. From the unborn child leaping for joy to his mother’s inspired acknowledgement of the visit from the Mother of God. Fr. Chris reminds us of the distinction between the emotion of happiness and the gift of joy. Happiness is that fleeting pleasure from a nice glass of wine or chocolate dessert, while joy...well, explains the priest, joy is the decision to remain in the presence of Christ despite what is happening.
Did this young girl know what was in store for her and for her child? There are many who claim she did not. I am not among them. It seems impossible for this God of Mercy, this God of Love, to have recruited the woman chosen this most blessed of all women without informed consent. If, like me, you are drawn to these matters, perhaps reading Venerable Mary Agreda’s diary, The City of God will put to rest any and all doubts.
Were all Christians filled with Her joy- that of the Spirit- would Gandhi have disliked us? Would Nietzche have ridiculed us?
Can we accept the challege to say, "Jesus, I trust in You" despite the Ireland referendum, latest mass killing, loss of our beloved spouse or job?
Can we stand - steadfastedly - at the foot of the Cross, with her?