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A celebration of interculturality

(Note: The following is a reflection shared by Sister Patty Fillenwarth during the Sisters of Providence 2018 annual meeting)

We rejoice in being sisters and brothers, the very life and breath of God in the Spirit. Today we celebrate interculturality, which helps us to love one another, appreciate one another and depend on one another for our very existence. It helps in the creation of a better existence for all who share our earth.

About a month ago, I was reading a professional magazine article about feminism, a movement that only came to be taken seriously in the 1970s. Up until then, most people took it for granted that a certain social order had been ordained by God and it should and could never be changed. Then people came who questioned it. Asked “why?” and “why not?” And women’s rights came to be seen as a new cultural phenomenon. The movement would change how women were treated by themselves and by society. And it is slowly creeping into the culture of society throughout the world. The current social order needed to be disturbed. And it was.

Principles of equal and just treatment of women — and of all people — we wonder why we didn’t see it sooner. The same thing can be said about racism, classism, heterosexism and all of the other shameless, nasty “isms,” whatever they may be. All of these, social warts with all of their ugly ramifications, have slowly begun to be recognized by many. On paper, we no longer accept unequal treatment for people of color, for those who are poor, for refugees, for people for whom sexual orientation is “different from our own.” But we all know that we as a society are not there yet. We need to accept the challenge of asking the difficult questions. Why do prejudice, poverty and inequality continue to exist? We need to become disturbers of the social order as we work with the apostles and prophets of our day. We need to construct a dwelling place for all, held together by what Jesus told us about how we are to live.

We have certainly experienced our world becoming smaller in past years. If we allow ourselves, we can learn about other cultures, appreciate them and enjoy them — or not. At any time, we can, through television and other types of media, see and experience others throughout the world. We also have learned over the centuries that it is beneficial to all if we can learn to share ideas and customs with others.

At the same time, we see every day our brothers and sisters who are fleeing from oppression, being killed by bombs and rifles, being poisoned in their waterways, their food, their air. We can see poverty in every facet of life — food, clothing, education, health care —we could go on and on. Some of these same people share our own country and our own cities. All are our brothers and sisters. Citizens of this same Earth, of which Jesus is our capstone and example.

And here is the conundrum, the sticking point. We are, by our very existence, sharing this beautiful Earth with ALL peoples throughout the world. We are co-heirs with all peoples throughout the Earth. And now we suddenly become St. Thomas in the Gospel. “ I can’t believe. I want to see some proof that the resurrected Jesus is alive at the center of this process of sharing our Earth, our very existence, with all peoples.”

And so we need to listen to what Jesus said to Thomas. He said, “Come and put your hand in my side and your finger in the wounds that you see. And don’t be unbelieving, but believe.“

We need to jump into the messy situation, get our hands dirty and get our whole selves involved. Jesus came here on earth to die for us, yes, but what is more important, he came to show us how to live — the good and bad, the beautiful and the ugly. Jesus’ life says: don’t just look at the suffering and injustices around you. Don’t just wring your hands and furrow your brows when you see people different from you. Experience them. Get close enough to your brothers and sisters to experience their culture and to experience who they are. And be not unbelieving, but believe. Jesus says come and enjoy your brothers and sisters — not just the lasagna, the chimichangas, not just the pad thai, chow mein, the falafel, the Weiner schnitzel. Come and enjoy the dancing and the singing. Come and become multicultural, and relax into being intercultural. Give and take. Learn and teach. Cry and share your sorrow. Laugh and share your fun.

Let’s work toward a world in which our Creator holds us together. You and I are how our Creator exists on Earth today. Let’s do whatever we can to help heal the sickness and the pain that some endure, in spite of their efforts.

And so what do we do? Prayer, as we know, is important. But I can’t just pray like the Pharisees — “Lord, I thank you that I am not like the rest of them.” No, no. I need to see where I am in need of conversion, as I pray each day in our Prayer for Non-Violence. I need to believe that I can change and that I can bring about changes for all my brothers and sisters. And I need to write letters and make phone calls, take part in protests when I can, and rub elbows and learn from my brothers and sisters in need. In getting to know people who are different from me, I grow and I become more complete as a person. When I disturb the current social order for good, I am helping to construct a place of well-being and peace for us all.

One thing most cultures have in common is an appreciation and love for family. Though degradations have occurred in history, no culture really accepts separating children from parents. Yet this is something we currently see in our own country. This has been decried and rejected by Republicans and Democrats, Christians, Jews, Muslims, old and young, rich and poor. Let this get us moving. We all need to disturb the current social order, to bring families back together and to provide a safe and robust haven for all those who seek safety and peace for themselves and their families.

And so, at times, we must be disturbers. Like Jesus, we cannot fear to disturb the status quo. No — we need to fear not doing it. We need to accept the challenge that Jesus put to Thomas — to be no longer unbelievers. We must believe that some of the current social order can and must be disturbed.

We are fortunate to have God as the capstone. We are fortunate to have each other to work together toward a world of peace, safety and happiness for all.

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Sister Patricia Fillenwarth

Sister Patty Fillenwarth ministers as a counselor at Providence Family Services (PFS) in Chicago. She is also founder and director of PFS.

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