The recent publication of my book of essays, The Difference God Makes, has made a difference in my life. People seem interested in what I think, and that is very satisfying if somewhat surprising. I’ve participated in explanations of the book to the media and to others in Chicago, and it has been presented at the Lateran University in Rome and at an event organized by The Crossroads Cultural Center in New York.
The theme of the book is simply that relations are prior to and more important than individual experiences in defining who we are and that the relation to God relates us to everything and everyone else. It takes a lifetime to grow into all these relationships, and the task is never completed. Unfortunately, the task won’t even be taken up if we imagine that we are who we are because of our choices and that relationships are “added on” and can be rejected at will.
The task of seeing everything interrelated, of seeing the whole before its parts, is made more credible today because of the birth of ecological consciousness. If everything is related in the material world, the spiritual inter-relatedness that is ecclesial communion becomes easier to envision. We are somewhat more used to seeing things whole now than we were a few years ago, and this habit is a great advantage in trying to understand the Church.
I began to “see the Church whole” when, years ago, I visited Oblate missionaries around the globe. There are many ways to live our faith, I observed, but the faith itself unites everyone and brings us into a relationship that has universal love as its source and goal. If one’s vision is global, then the difficulties at one moment or in one part of the Church cannot possess us or distract us from an authentic sense of who we are in the Church.
Living in the Church is to participate in the marriage between Christ and his people. Married people not only live together, they also live “through” one another. This concept of shared self-consciousness, of being shaped by a relationship necessary for you to be yourself, deserves more analysis by theologians who want to explore the reality that is ecclesial communion.
Loving the Church is essential if one is to love Jesus Christ, the Church’s bridegroom. Loving the Church is also a challenge in a society where the Church is in the way of many people’s social projects and personal desires. Nevertheless, Christ can be adequately known only from within his body, the Church, just as one can know who a husband really is only by knowing his wife.
It’s interesting to see what parts of a book appeal to different people. It’s fascinating to see how different interpretations can be given to words that seem simple and straightforward enough. The publication of my book has occasioned good conversation, and that’s what I had hoped it would do.