By KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — “Loving God and our neighbor, as we should, was the challenge of our baptism, and it is the challenge of a lifetime,” said Bishop Robert J. Baker at St. Peter Church during his homily.
Echoing many of the sentiments expressed earlier that day during workshops, the bishop spoke of how this “perfect love” should be the driving force behind true discipleship in Christ.
“We all respond to that challenge in different walks of life, in different vocations of service in the church, in different age groups …, and we also approach the challenge as God has created us so marvelously, male and female,” said the bishop.
The theme celebrating differences was continued during the liturgy. The music had a Hispanic flare as the choir members alternated between English and Spanish lyrics. The 13 petitions were read in 12 languages by 13 individuals. Some even dressed in regional attire.
Even the day’s Gospel reading of the Good Samaritan parable supported the conference’s theme of ministry, reconciliation and the expanded notion of “neighbor.” Bishop Baker said Christ shows how the Samaritan, who was ethnically and religiously mixed, knew how to love in a concrete way. To suggest that this Samaritan knew what religion was all about was inconceivable for the people to whom Christ was preaching to in this parable.
“I call upon all of us in the Church of Charleston to make a little more effort as we begin this new millennium of Christianity to reflect the love of Christ within our own community so as to reflect perfect love better to those outside our community. How else can we be a credible community of Christ as church unless we reflect the love of Christ to each other and translate that love concretely to one another?” rhetorically asked the bishop.
He acknowledges that sometimes loving within one’s own community, “composed of people of different ethnicity, political ideologies and religious expression,” can be challenging since it calls for a radical change in each individual. For example the barriers between “liberal and conservative” Catholics must be broken down by constructively examining one another’s position using a measure of truth, and trying to see the good in every person.
Bishop Baker spoke of other ways a person could show love concretely such as “accepting the ethnic diversities amongst us and rejoicing over them, not trying to create a blending and bland version of American Catholicism that fails to acknowledge the beauty and richness of cultures and their contributions to Catholicism.” In areas of evangelization, people should see their task as “not just winning an argument but winning a soul,” which is the emphasis in the “new evangelization.”
He quoted from a recent address from the Holy Father who said, “We should speak with clarity to one another, but in explaining comprehensively the truth of Revelation and the church’s teaching, we should not just repeat but explain.”
“Ecclesial (of the church) love means replacing a melting pot approach to evangelization with a healthy, organized outreach to an ethnically diverse, yet religiously united group of believers who follow Christ faithfully and are loyal to his church and its teaching Magisterium,” explained the bishop. He cautions that it does not mean, “compromising the truth for the sake of compassion, but preserving the truth in love.”
In his final blessing Bishop Baker asked for the guidance of Jesus and the intercession of Mary as the diocese embarks on reconciliation for “the Lord and his church.” He reminds us that, “the Kingdom of God is in our midst, here in the great Diocese of Charleston.”