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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - What 'Unity in Diversity' Actually Means?

Robert Barron - What 'Unity in Diversity' Actually Means?

Robert Barron - What 'Unity in Diversity' Actually Means?

Peace be with you. Friends, we come today to the marvelous Feast of Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, who is the lifeblood of the Church. He’s the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ. I submit to you that the Holy Spirit is the solution to the problem of the one and the many. Now, what am I talking about? Well, if you go into the history of philosophy, you'll see that one of the most basic questions human beings have always faced is the dilemma of the one and the many. Unity and difference. Unity and plurality. Which one has primacy? What's better: unity or differentiation? You'll see it now at almost every level of life and experience. Okay, that's philosophy. And we've never really solved it. Look at the various thinkers and one will side more with unity, the other with diversity.

How about today in our culture? There's no question about it. We are really into diversity in our culture, aren't we? We are acutely aware of the dangers of unity. That it's imperialistic, it's oppressive, et cetera. And we are really singing the praises of diversity. Well, okay, but welcome to the history of culture and philosophy. We always tend to oscillate back and forth between these two things. And we're longing for some resolution of this issue. Okay. Can I get at this now, first by looking at a famous text from the Old Testament, in light of which we can really understand the account of Pentecost in the New Testament. My Old Testament text is the familiar one from Genesis chapter 11.

So look it up today, when you have a chance. Listen: "Now the whole earth had one language and the same words". And people migrate now to this place called Shinar. They say, "'Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar". Now they're ready for a big project. That's the point. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth".

Now, typical biblical language, it's very laconically told. But what's being conveyed there, I would say, is the shadow side of unity. They've got one language. They've got one set of words. They're all together on this project. And what's the project? Well, to make a name for themselves and to build a tower that goes all the way up to heaven to challenge God himself. This is unity in it's kind of domineering, oppressive, imperialistic, overbearing mode. All right, what happens? Listen: "The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, 'Look, they are one people, and they all have one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do.'"

Now, this is not God being difficult or arbitrary, just trying out of rivalry to undermine some human project. No, no; it's the divine judgment on an overbearing unity, an oppressive, imperialistic unity. And so, God scatters them. "The Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth". Now here's how I propose we read this. Unity when it's hyper expressed becomes imperialistic, overbearing. Once that becomes clear, we tend to oscillate in the other direction into just radical diversity, radical differentiation. Now we're scattered and we speak all these different languages. Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian I've cited before, saw this dynamic up and down cultural history. He said that it's true we tend to oscillate between, what he called, "individualization" and "participation".

Individualization is diversity. We're all individuals. We're all separate. We're all unique. We're all divided. And then that causes trouble, so we oscillate in the direction of participation. We're all in this one great project together. Mind you, Paul Tillich was one of the first people expelled from Nazi Germany, to his credit. Hitler saw Tillich as a problem. And what Tillich saw in the rising Nazi movement, ein Reich, ein Volk, ein ... one, one, one. Everyone in lockstep. Well, that's unity run amuck. That's the one now become oppressive. So I think we can see the problem in the very beginning here; the problem of the one and the many spiritually speaking.

Now go from one end of the Bible to the other. So we've started back here. Now we're in the Acts of the Apostles and the reading which describes the feast for today. Now listen to the dynamics of this. "When the day of Pentecost had come, and they were all together in one place, suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind shaking the house and the tongues of fire appear. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability".

Now, diversity, yeah, they're speaking in a variety of languages. But under the influence of the one Spirit, and their purpose is a unified purpose. Listen now: "There were devout Jews from every nation under heaven, and they were bewildered because each of them heard the Apostles speaking in his own language". And they say, "Look, aren't all these men Galileans? How come we can hear them in our different languages"? Then this: "Where are they from? We are Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, even visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretins and Arabs too".

Now, why is St. Luke mentioning by name all these people? Why didn't he just say, "Well, there are a lot of different people, from all over the world, and they all heard it in their own language"? He very carefully enumerates all the different people's languages and places. And here's something very interesting that we're going to miss, but the first century reader wouldn't have missed. Imagine Jerusalem, where this is happening, in the middle. As he's naming all these places, that aren't really familiar to us, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia, what he's doing is he's drawing a kind of ellipse right around Jerusalem, from east to west, and even including some things south, think of the reference to Egypt, but at the end, even visitors from Rome, from far Western country.

The idea is the many different peoples and languages, listen now, while retaining their individuality, nevertheless come together in hearing the one great message of Christ. Their diversity isn't denied. Like, "Let's get rid of all these different languages. Let's all speak one language". No, no, no. That's not right. No, the diversity is acknowledged. It's celebrated. They're naming them clearly. But yet it is not a cacophonous diversity, but rather a harmonious diversity like the voices of a choir, because they're all hearing in their different languages the one great message.

Now, now, can you see why I said what I said at the beginning? The Holy Spirit is the solution to the problem of the one and the many. The Holy Spirit, who is the love that connects the Father and the Son, the love that God is, yes, indeed, draws all of us to together. But never in a way that suppresses diversity in an imperialistic manner. No, no, no. The many languages, the many nations, but now united in one great purpose. There's the solution. May I say, everybody, now, this is whether you're in the context of your family or your place of work or your society, your culture, your nation, or the world; the mark of the Holy Spirit is exactly this. Not oppressive unity, not cacophonous diversity, but rather unity in diversity, diversity in unity, the many for the sake of the one, the one for the sake of the many. That's the mark of the Holy Spirit.

Remember I've often said to you Thomas Aquinas' definition of love. "To love is to will the good of the other as other". Does love unite us? Yeah, that's the whole point. If I love you, I'm willing your good. I'm uniting myself to you. But, listen, willing the good of the other as other. I'm not trying to draw you imperialistically into my way of thinking and being and doing in every detail. No, while respecting your otherness, I yet come close to you in unity. There's the mark of the Holy Spirit. There's the mark of the Holy Spirit. Watch as we oscillate, everybody, between excessive, oppressive unity and cacophonous diversity. That's when the Spirit's not operative. But when the many come together for the sake of unity, now we're looking at the Holy Spirit.

A place I'd look for this is at Mass, when we all come together from diverse backgrounds, diverse types of experience, different ages, education levels, both genders, et cetera, et cetera. But what we do? We sing together. All in one monotonous voice? No, no; you've got sopranos and basses and tenors. You've got high voices, low voices, good voices, bad voices, smooth voices, rough voices, voices of children, voices of old people. Good. Good. But all of us coming together in the unified praise of God, that's the work of the Holy Spirit. Another example here that always comes to my mind when I think of the Spirit and the one and the many is John Paul II and World Youth Day.

I've attended three World Youth Days now, and they're marvelous. And it's what John Paul had in mind. Young people coming together from all over the world, north and south, east and west, from cold climates, warm climates, from the developed world, from the developing world, and everything in between. And all the young people streaming to one place with the banners of their countries on display, singing the songs of their people. Good. He's not interested in suppressing diversity. He doesn't want a Tower of Babel with one language, just doing one thing in this oppressive way. No, no. He wants all this diversity to flourish and express itself. But how wonderful that all these different voices are singing the praise of Christ. They're all coming together for the unified purpose of undertaking the mission of the Church.

That's the mark of the Holy Spirit. Unity in diversity, diversity for the sake of unity. It's the stance of love, because the Holy Spirit is the love that connects the Father and the Son. So as I close, just think of this, everybody. As you analyze whatever it is, again, your family, your place of work, your culture, your country, look at it under this rubric. Look, we're all sinners, and so there's always going to be too much unity, too much diversity, but what's that wonderful tensive place of balance, where we find the love that the Holy Spirit is? That's what we ought to be focused upon and shooting for. And God bless you.
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