See How They Love One Another

See How They Love One Another December 28, 2011

A news report from the Reuters, via the Guardian:

Palestinian police are called to the Church of Nativity after rival groups of clergymen clash in a dispute over jurisdiction inside the basilica. Up to 100 Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic priests and monks, armed with brooms, came to blows while cleaning the West Bank church in preparation for Orthodox Christmas celebrations.

While we may be inclined to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude, watching our Armenian and Orthodox brethren brawling.  But Catholics have been equally guilty in the past I have been told that the Franciscans  (the Franciscans!) who control the Catholic portion of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem are adept at using their organ to drown out rival services being held at the same time as the Catholic mass.  The problem is so severe that the keys to the main doors of the Church are controlled by a Muslim family.

Since yesterday was the feast of St. John the Evangelist, in reading this news item I recalled the injunction of Jesus recorded in the first letter of St. John:

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another, unlike Cain who belonged to the evil one and slaughtered his brother. Why did he slaughter him? Because his own works were evil, and those of his brother righteous.  Do not be amazed, [then,] brothers, if the world hates you.  We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death.   Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him.  The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?  Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth (1 John 3:11-18)

Now the Churches in the Holy Land are very far away, and I certainly have no control over them, nor really any deep understanding of the tangled cultural/political/religious history that has brought us to this state.  So it is perhaps cheap advice for me to say that one solution is for the Catholics, at least, to walk away:  to drop all claims to ownership and control of these Churches, and to reduce ourselves to beggars in the midst of our brethren.

“If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.”  Mark 9:47

If we seek access to these Churches, not as owners but as beggars, asking it not as a right but as an unearned gift, we may be spurned by our brethren.  Our pilgrims may be turned away, forced to go elsewhere to receive the sacraments.   Or we may be welcomed with love.  Or both may occur simultaneously.   But if we could face this with equanimity (which would be very hard:  I don’t like going with hat in hand, and I am sure most of us don’t either) then, as St. Francis said to Brother Leo:  “there would be true joy in this and true virtue and the salvation of the soul.” (St. Francis of Assisi, True and Perfect Joy)

Perhaps the more pressing question I should be asking myself, rather than solving someone else’s problems,  is this:  to what do I cling to in my own heart, what do I seek to own and control that is not really mine?   What am I ready to fight over with my brothers and sisters, rather than yielding in order to be a witness to the love of God?  This needs to be understood not in terms of lofty principles, but in terms of very mundane and ordinary things (like a church building).   We cling to and defend very paltry things.   As an academic I am comfortably ensconced in the upper middle class, and it is very easy to confuse the perks of my position (good salary and benefits, a high degree of professional autonomy—including the personal use of my work computer to type this post) with my rights.    The temptation is to say that I “deserve” these things, that they are a natural reward for my hard work and advanced education.  Maybe.   But I am probably just lying to myself when I say this.  As Ursula Le Guin trenchantly observed:

For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? (The Dispossessed, p. 358)

Or to put it in another way:  the rule of the Secular Franciscan Order calls on me to “purify my heart from every yearning for possession and power.”    I admit it:  I like the benefits of my position, and I wouldn’t mind more.  But they are a temptation, and may lead me to turn my back on love.

I pray that each of us, this day, will use the grace God has given us to love one another, not in words, but also in deed and truth.

"If I am only now scaring you, I need to bring my A game. :-)"

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  • Peter Paul Fuchs


    First, as to your comforts and perks in life, I think you need a more practical measuring stick. If they make you an asshole — and you can tell that by the simple technique of listening to people seriously when they say “Oh, that guy’s an asshole!” — then there is a problem with them. There may be times when their judgment is motivated by strange factors and you can discount it. But when it is people close to your world, listen up! I personally have benefitted by this profound technique.

    Second, as to the broader issue here, doesn’t it all come down to religious toleration. It just makes it funnier that the people fighting probably have 99.99999% of their beliefs and even liturgy in common and still they can not be tolerant. Here is the news flash for all Christians. Christianity does NOT provide a rationale for religious toleration in itself. It never did, and never will. That does NOT mean that there is anything really intrinsic to the faith that is adverse to toleration. But conversely, there is nothing really in it that leads to it, and a lot that does not, or does the opposite. Another element is needed in the mix, and that is one that came directly from the 18th Century Enlightenment. Now as Charles Taylor has brilliantly and complexly laid out, Christianity had a hand in this Enlightenment and deserves partial credit. But NOT for having an ethos that produced it, but for having virtues that provided a warm bed for the development. To put it simply. It was Nathan the Wise that preached tolerance, not Jesus.

    (As digby’s jejune comment on the Trump post shows, a lot of profound people are still very confused on these simple matters of intellectual and, yes, spiritual history! I mean that in a good way, digby!)

    • Rodak

      Bravo, PPF!

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        Thanks, Rodak the Wise.

  • Let no one say, we are not in need of conversion every day.

  • Well, the keys to the Holy Sepulchre have been held by the same Muslim family since Omar captured the city from the Byzantines, so that wasn’t done out of the conflicts we Christians have had since that sad day.

    As for your suggestion, “cheap” is putting it lightly — the Eastern churches here (not just the Orthodox, but the myriad others as well) have fractious relations with each other, and with us Latins (as we’re known in this part of the world). The Franciscans renounce their chapel in the Sepulchre, the Benedictines relinquish the church of the Multiplication of the Loaves & Fishes, and the Catholic Church decides to just walk away — then what? What about the thousands of Arabic Latins and Melkites? It is not just pilgrims who would be turned away, but they as well, and *principally* them! Very few of the churches here have inter-communion at all, let alone with the Holy See (no matter how much we say “you can come to ours!” they don’t *want* to!). A good number of them really do think the whole Latin church is in a state of schism and formal heresy, and would *you* want a Calvinist partaking the Eucharist at Mass? That’s how a good number of the folks on the ground here see Latins (And frankly, we’re not doing a good job of fighting that image).

    Do I think these fights get in the way of Christian brotherhood? Yes, of course I do, and I do my best to respect them and their prerogatives as I can. But I don’t think us relinquishing ours will help. Maybe in that day God knows when our ancient schisms are healed, the Latins can relinquish direct control over certain places, knowing that a Christian can attend the Sacraments without prejudice. I pray that day may come soon.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      If we walk away, the Latin rite Catholics will not be cut off from the sacraments: only from receiving them in these particular churches. We can disagree, but I cannot see any good can come from clinging to our “rights” in these Churches if they are a source of discord with our Eastern brethren. It doesn’t matter what they think of us: we owe a duty to them despite the wrongs we have suffered at their hands.

    • There is one noteable antidote to all of this: its the witnessing of the Terra Santa News/Franciscan Media Center. I have followed their frequent 1-2 minute YouTube broadcasts to get a great insight into the lives of the locals and the religious relations in the region. I subscribe via YouTube and have it dropped into my daily views, then watch it on HDTV with a Roku connection. Here are a few links. (David, as SFO I try to highlight this on my fraternities blog, Please give the links below a try.)

      • Hmmm…my second link was lost… here it is again.

      • Obviously a wordpress filter is knocking my link off.

        It’s ‘YouTube dot com slash. followed by ‘videocustodiae’ then a slash.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Thank you: it is good to see that cordiality is not completely lost. Though it would be better if they would all just get together for a drink. Maybe twice, once on Latin Christmas and once on Eastern Christmas.