Early in our relationship, my husband and I attended a Catholic service together for the first time. I don’t remember now whether it was a baptism, a First Communion, a wedding, or a funeral. What I do remember was that when it was time to go forward for communion, my husband remained seated beside me, and following his lead, I remained seated as well. I understood that I wasn’t supposed to share the bread and wine, but I had never really considered whether or not he would take communion.
We married in a Presbyterian church, and we became members of that church, following my choice of faith traditions and never turning away from communion together. I gave little thought to the faith of his childhood until after that service, when I asked him why he did not take the sacrament. Despite the fact that he had not been to confession in all the time I’d known him, that was not the focus of his answer. He told me that he had no interest in taking communion in a church that denied communion to me.
I told my sister-in-law that I didn’t understand why, when Christ didn’t even deny communion to Judas, the Catholic Church would deny it to me. A devout Catholic and one of the people I most respect and love in the world, she explained her faith’s belief in transubstantiation—that the bread and wine really become the blood and body of Christ. While Protestants believe in the bread and wine as symbols, to Catholics, to take communion without confession is to desecrate the body of Christ. She encouraged me to go forward for a blessing from the priest, wanting me to be included in something that meant so much to her.
Like most families, we accept and respect each other’s beliefs because we know each other’s hearts and care deeply for one another. What I’ve learned over the years of our marriage is that my husband differs with the faith of his childhood on much more than their denial of communion to those of other faiths. But unlike many people I know who’ve converted to other faiths, he harbors no anger at the Church. He has simply made a decision to seek God in a way that makes more sense to him.
And so both of us were surprised to learn that, on Wednesday, Pope Francis had quite an unusual take on the story in the Gospel of Mark where the disciples complain to Jesus that someone who is not one of his disciples is casting out demons in his name. Pope Francis says this of that story:
[The disciples] complain, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him,” he says, “let him do good.” The disciples were a little intolerant, closed off by the idea of possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth cannot do good.” This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon. The root of this possibility of doing good—that we all have—is in creation. The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. “But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.” Yes, he can. The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! “Father, the atheists?” Even the atheists. Everyone! We must meet one another doing good. “But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!” But do good: we will meet one another there.
The pope’s message filled me with hope. I don’t expect that humans will ever all agree on the nature and existence of God. But I do believe that there are many, many of us who believe in coexisting—in finding what’s best in each other and accepting each other’s right to believe as we believe. But those of us who truly believe in religious freedom tend to be a quiet lot.
Because we believe in peace rather than in conflict, we aren’t the people who are given air time by the media. Goodness and light don’t sell newsprint or garner high television ratings. Conflict does. And so we hear from the loudest, angriest, and most vocal—whether they’re Christian or Muslim, agnostic or atheist. Those voices will continue to rage as long as those of us who believe that we can come together to do good stay quiet.
I know you’re out there. I can tell from the stats on my blog every time one of you reads a post like this for the first time and then within an hour reads every other blog like it that I’ve posted.
So let’s stop being quiet. No matter what your beliefs, tell your stories of good meeting good. We have the power. And the world has never needed us more.