The gift of understanding

Originally Appeared in : 9901-1/3/19
Our faith teaches us that all humans are created in God’s image. God creates good creatures. Thus, I am never surprised by the generosity of humankind. People rise to occasions of greatness more often than seems logical.
Consider events of the past year. Soccer players and their coach were trapped in a flooding cave in Thailand while great minds and skillful divers fashioned a plan to rescue them. The remarkable, dramatic rescue captured the attention of the world. It also cost the life of a diver who, knowing the risk, sacrificed himself to save others.
Heroic firefighters and other rescue personnel braved the nightmarish fires in California to save lives. During floods and hurricanes, private citizens and emergency responders scoured neighborhoods to save trapped residents. Displaced people were provided goods and shelter.
Some people claim that we often forget the goodness of people because we are always hearing bad news, negative stories that reflect the worst of human nature. Some news channels add a good news story at the end of their broadcasts.
Doing some preliminary research for this column, I found an Insider article profiling eleven stories that went viral on social media about the generosity of strangers who helped people in need. One man, who walked miles to his fast-food job, was provided a car after strangers donated to a fund when they learned of his plight. People from all walks of life were described as helping those less fortunate.
Thus, it may seem perplexing that we who are usually so eager to rescue and help those whom we encounter in need are so polarized when it comes to our politics. How does this happen if, as it seems, the average person in this country is inclined to see the good in another and help him or her?
Perhaps all we need to unite us is greater understanding.
We Catholics believe that understanding is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet even Catholics are affected by polarizing forces. Perhaps we should ponder what it means to be understanding.
Understanding as a gift of the Spirit is not intellectual. It is transformational. We do not rely on our heads to give us understanding as much as we must rely on our hearts. Understanding is the gift of being able to apply the teachings of Jesus to our own lives.
Because people are basically good, even those who do not follow Jesus Christ are capable of profound generosity including self-sacrifice.Those who are Christian, however, are invited to share in the sort of understanding Christ showed. The best way for us share in that understanding is to immerse ourselves in Christ’s teachings. The polarization within our Church suggests that we may have excellent understanding of dogma, but either ignore or refuse to accept Christ’s teachings.
Some of the most profound of Christ’s teachings are so ingrained in our experience that we fail to see them as guides for our own lives. We’ve heard these parables and Gospel stories since childhood, and they lost their effect on us.
It’s ironic that those who claim that we are surrounded by negative news (and thus prone to be fearful of our brothers and sisters) may be the very same people who, week after week, are privileged to hear the Gospel (Good News.).
Do we really believe this Good News? And if we do, how could we be anything other than understanding and loving toward our fellow human beings?
Throughout his public ministry, one theme resonated through Jesus’s actions and teachings. Like a musical composition created of many harmonies – the theme was that God created us to be loving, merciful, self-giving, and accepting of all.
Jesus reintroduced the marginalized and isolated (lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes) to their communities. Jesus brought enemies together. A Samaritan, the enemy of the Jews, was Jesus’s example of a good neighbor. Even the Roman oppressors were shown mercy. Jesus showed us that God does not punish people with affliction, but loves and seeks relationship with all. Jesus, who would have been justified in exacting revenge toward his persecutors and betrayers, publicly forgave them.
Jesus expressed his unique connection to the poor by healing the sick, praising the widow who gave from her poverty, and describing as the Last Judgment how those who neglect and abuse the poor neglect and abuse Jesus himself.
If we Christians want a template for how to overcome polarization in our country, world, and Church, we need look no farther than Jesus.
In her book, Radical Optimism: Practical Spirituality in an Uncertain World, Beatrice Bruteau describes the process of becoming a contemplative, and then offers this as the fruit:
“Once we see that our deepest self, the real person in us, is not limited to being any one particular image-self but is actually a child of God, one who simply says ‘I am I, here now’ – once we really grasp that, all need for this elaborate and expensive defense system evaporates. Then we are free to love others, to will abundant being to them, to all.
“We are liberated from the boxed-in, local, bounded sense of ourselves… We have more a sense of ourselves as a process of being, which is God’s ever-present act of creating us. Looking toward other persons, we sense them also as creative acts of God, being made fresh from moment to moment, not limited to the descriptions of their past qualities or acts.
“Thus forgiveness means entering into the lives of the other persons in order that they may be and that they may be abundantly. We unite with them in the present living moment, loving them where they are. If multitudes of persons were to become free in this way, we all would begin to experience a sense of the Whole as an organic reality, as a single Living One, as a Divine Body. We would be the real Corpus Christi.”
Put simply, the gift of understanding is recognizing God’s creative work in all humankind and our divine unity transcending all boundaries.
May all our efforts in the new year be directed toward seeking this understanding.
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”
Mary Hood Hart is a freelance writer and educator living in Pittsboro, NC. She can be reached at
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