Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Reflection for the Ulster Project

The Ulster Project is a peace initiative in Northern Ireland, seeking to break down barriers between the Catholic and rival Protestant factions there. They bring groups of teens over to Cincinnati for a month in the summer and work on helping them realize that they have more in common than different. I was asked to give the Catholic portion of the reflection for their opening prayer service, which was held last night at the Cathedral. My thoughts follow:

(Based on Colossians 3:12-15)

In the history of Christianity, there is a great history of the saints doing wondrous things, going above and beyond the simple call of love of neighbor where they truly embrace the love of enemy as well.

The example that strikes me the most is the example of Stephan the Deacon in the Acts of the Apostles. Chosen as one of the seven who were called to assist the Apostles in their ministry to the community, specifically to the Gentile community, those who were ‘other’ from the Apostles themselves, Stephan quickly distinguished himself as a man of prayer and a man of integrity. Not content with just ministering among his own people and faith, he boldly took on those who were challenging the new Christian movement. He was unafraid to challenge those who were persecuting them, concluding a long speech in Chapter 7 of the Acts of the Apostles with the following words:

You stiff necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are always
opposing the Holy Spirit just as your fathers did before you. Was there
ever any prophet whom your fathers did not persecute? In their day, they put to
death those who foretold the coming of the Just One; now you in your turn have
become his betrayers and murderers. You who received the law through the
ministry of angels have not observed it. (Acts 7:51-53)

Pretty bold stuff, to be sure. But it was motivated and guided by the love that Stephan had for Christ and his desire that all be saved. Stephan’s reward? He was martyred, stoned to death by Saul, who would become Paul, the great Apostle. By what is even more amazing, instead of blasting and challenging and cursing those who were actively stoning him, actively killing him, with his last breath he quotes Jesus from the Cross: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” and with that he died.

How do we achieve what St. Paul discusses in the Letter to the Colossians? How do we put on love and make Christ’s peace reign in our hearts? I think that the example of St. Stephan gives us a beautiful model to follow. We hold people to the highest standard: peace, respect, toleration, love of neighbor and enemy; but when we are wronged, betrayed, mistreated, instead of reacting out of anger or hatred, we call those around us to embrace the love of Christ, which we ourselves are the first to witness. And that love is built first by communication, respect, and finally we are drawn into relationship not only with one another, but then necessarily also with Christ.

To the teens visiting, may you have a wonderful stay here in Cincinnati, but may you also learn from each other and grow in your love for each other, and for all of God’s Children.

1 comment:

Ann S. said...

We participated in a similar program in 2001, hosting a 13-year-old Protestant girl from Belfast. Protestant children stayed with Catholic families and vice versa. What an amazing experience for all involved. There are many programs like this out there--a great idea.