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January 27, 2013 - Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Neh 8:2-4A, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Cor 12:12-30; Lk 1:1-4, 4:14-21

January 23, 2013

Diversity is a reality of our daily living. Each of us, with our own differences, participates in diverse contexts including but not limited to family, parish, school, neighborhood, and nation. In many ways, families are the most basic unit of human diversity. They are established in difference, contain elements of intentionality, e.g. for the most part we can choose our spouses and elements of accident, e.g. we cannot choose to whom we are born. As kin we may share some commonalities, for example biological traits, cultural practices, even our names.

However, our families are marked by differences: we are male and female, we vary in age or orientation, and our physical characteristics are not always similar. For some our first language is Spanish or American Sign Language or Polish, but our children's first language is English or Korean. Some of us are U.S. citizens, others are residents, and still others of us are immigrants who are alternately documented and living in the shadows. Sometimes we come from different ethnic or racial backgrounds; some of us are in the autism spectrum and others live with Alzheimer's; we remain with our biological parents or we are adopted by and in turn we adopt parents that are genetically unrelated to us.

In some ways diversity is one of the more complicated concepts to understand perhaps because it has been used - or overused - in numerous circumstances. In the workplace, diversity often describes practices that seek to employ a variety of people in order to create an environment that ideally is beneficial to the company as well as to the workers. For some businesses, a variety of perspectives and experiences among its employees is seen as a profitable investment that attracts new markets or customers. For other employers having workers across racial, cultural, ability, and gender lines is necessary to comply with federal or state guidelines on equity in hiring. In education, diversity reflects a goal of recruiting and retaining students and faculty from populations that have historically been under-represented and/or excluded from particular schools or fields of study. It also indicates attention to a variety of perspectives in scholarship, resources and in the development of curricula. In politics, the term indicates sensitivity to and a tolerance of difference. Too often however, people use diversity to describe "those who are not me." In other words, whoever is different or in the minority is labeled, as the diversity, but the rest of "us" are not.

The New Testament recalls the struggles of the early communities of Jesus' followers as they tried to understand themselves as united amidst their differences. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the disciple Paul begs the quarrelling factions to find agreement so "there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose" (1:10). The diversity of gifts, ministries and activities within community is at the center of yet another Pauline concern (1 Cor 12:4-11). Paul resolves that it is "one and the same Spirit" responsible for the diversity that enriches the entire community. It is this concern that leads Paul to use the human body as an image for a community united in Christ. In a rather humorous way, Paul places the different body parts in conversation (1 Cor 12:12-27). If we read between the lines of this Sunday's second reading we find hints of possible dissension in the community at the time. The insecurity of the foot for not being a hand reminds the community that all belong and each brings a necessary component for the body to function.

The head cannot easily dismiss the other parts as unnecessary, even those parts that may be weaker or even less presentable. The message is clear, diversity is a necessary condition for communal life, and it is God-given. Diversity should not be the source of division at the same time the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church remind us that the "body's unity does not do away with the diversity of its members" (#791). Rather, animated by the Spirit, the whole is invited to feel with each part so much so that when anyone suffers, all suffer; when anyone is honored, all share the joy. This insight also serves as the basis for the principle of solidarity in Catholic social teaching.

Earlier this week the United States of America inaugurated its 44th president for a second term of office. In this context, our U.S. national diversity was on display. Like Paul, poet Richard Blanco drew on images from the concreteness of our lived experience in order to make sense of what it means to propose "out of many, one,"e pluribus unum! Whereas Paul turned to the body, in his poem One Today Blanco appeals to the "one sun" that rose this day on "My face, your face, millions of faces in morning's mirrors, each one yawning to life." Between the lines he too hints at sources of our dissension:

"Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me-in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips."

Like Paul, Blanco's imagery too conveys a sense that our human differences are not a problem; rather they are a source of our necessary diversity, a reflection of the divine, a gift of our creation, a reality of our daily living. With each set of images, the apostle and the poet seek not to limit our imaginings but to open us to creatively ponder how we are called to live out justly the responsibilities of our "inclusion-in-relation" in solidarity (Benedict XVI. Caritas in veritate, #54).

Carmen Nanko-Fernandez
Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministry

Parts of this reflection are excerpted from "Creation in Divine Diversity: Imaging Community, Respecting Difference." New Theology Review 24:2 (May 2011) 27-38.

Richard Blanco, One Today, available at: 

Benedict XVI.Caritas in veritate, available at: 

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