Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In Christ We are all Equal

"We are all equal in Christ" is the headline, appearing over an article in the Bible and Life magazine, written by a priest working in a poor area of Seoul City. He reflects on the words he heard continually in the seminary: in Christ we are all equal, only the duties are different. The reason for emphasizing this was to keep the seminarians from getting a big head, from wanting to be treated as special, and to keep them humble, he reminds himself.

The priest wants to live this truth, and is the reason, he says, that he has chosen to live among the poor, especially the weak and the alienated of  society. However, there have been unexpected problems he has learned to face by bringing to mind the words: "Follow all the rules of  etiquette,  don't just speak for appearance sake, and don't go beyond what is necessary to be polite in words and actions."  He doesn't want those who relate with him to  fail to say what is in their heart. This is, he believes, what makes for a natural relationship. 

By confronting the difficulties that are likely to occur in any relationship, change does come, he says. He doesn't want to down play the vital role of the priesthood, this is understood, but he believes in the importance of being treated as an equal in the daily activities of the parish. In meetings,  the expectation is to have differences of opinion and conflict, which is frequently expressed by such statements as "That is your opinion, Father, but isn't it true that your opinion is not always right?" The objective of both parties is the same, but in the process there is bickering over whose opinion is right, but inevitably we reconcile, he says, laugh, move on, and the words become heartfelt and friendly. "Father, would you please do this? Could you give me that? Please warm the coffee--all very human ways of relating with one another and greatly desired.

Those not of the community on hearing such interchanges, often express surprise. How can one speak in that way to the priest? And yet, the priest is  thankful with this comfortable exchange. When there is something to be said, it is said simply and directly. It keeps him from seeing himself, he says, with any pretensions.  It's natural to dislike hearing disagreeable words when we are involved, but with more understanding of what caused the difficulty the feeling quickly passes. 

His own experience is that this kind of relationship builds confidence, which further motivates people to speak from the heart. However, as happens in any community, there often develops a pecking order, with those at the bottom not speaking up. They are disregarded and do what they are told. Helping this part of the community to take their rightful place is a continuing task,  he says.

Society, our parents, or others in authority often are the ones giving us the role and pecking order we will follow in life. In past times, it was the nobles, the ordinary folk, and the slaves. This was considered normal, and everyone knew their place. The order is still there without the labeling. Today it may be money, power, age, honor, and the like, often accepting these with care, but at times in a servile manner.

Why do we fail to appreciate the worth of others no matter where they are ranked? Perhaps, the priest suggests, because we are easily dragged into following the crowd.

He concludes with a sigh, not knowing precisely what it is that we must do to achieve our ideal relationships. Yes, we are all equal in Jesus... He loves us all... We are his disciples. And yet we follow the rules of the world rather than that of our Lord, and even within the Church we have the "high and low" standard. He doesn't want to get involved in this, and though saddened by it, he manages, he says, among all the difficulties, to keep smiling.

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